Saturday, January 29, 2011
Victory for Independent Science
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho
January 26, 2011
Gilles-Eric Séralini, professor of molecular biology at the University of Caen in France, and president of the scientific council for independent research on genetic engineering (CRIIGEN), is a leading researcher into the risks of GMOs. Not surprisingly, he and his team became the target a concerted campaign of vilification, which included Monsanto, EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) and scientific societies representing biotechnology in France: the French Association of Plant Biotechnology and the French High Counsel on Biotechnology.
This attack was triggered by the team’s recent thorough re-analysis of data submitted by Monsanto to obtain commercial approval in Europe for three GM maize lines, MON 863, MON 810, NK603, on which EFSA had given a favourable opinion. In a published paper, the team concluded that the data “highlight signs of hepatorenal toxicity, possibly due to the new pesticides specific to each GM corn. In addition, unintended direct or indirect metabolic consequences of the genetic modification cannot be excluded.”
Séralini and his colleagues received massive support from scientists and civil society. But Séralini decided to sue for libel; he believed the researchers Claude Allegre, Axel Kahn, and Marc Fellous were behind the defamation and intimidation campaign in France and that is why he pursued Fellous, who chairs the French Association of Plant Biotechnologies (AFBV), in the courts. Séralini argued that the campaign had damaged his reputation, reducing his opportunities for work and his chances of getting funding for his research.
On Tuesday 18 January 2011, the court of Paris concluded the lawsuit and decided in Séralini’s favour, much to everyone’s surprise.
During the trial, it transpired that Fellous, who presented himself as a ‘neutral’ scientist without personal interests, and accused those who criticise GMOs as ‘ideological’ and ‘militant’, actually owns patents through a company based in Israel. This company sells patents to corporations such as Aventis. Seralini’s lawyer showed that various other AFBV members also have links with agribusiness companies, and so their scientific impartiality and integrity came under intense scrutiny.
The judge sentenced the AFBV to a fine on probation of €1 000, €1 for compensation (as requested by the plaintiff) and €4 000 in court fees.
Corinne Lepage, president of CRIIGEN, was delighted by the victory, as she stressed that she was not optimistic when leaving the first court session that had been held on 23 November 2010. ”One cannot any longer say whatever one wants about whistleblower,” she said. “It is the first time that a whistleblower is not on the defensive but on the offensive.”
Commenting on the court victory, Pete Riley of UK’s GM Freeze said: “We warmly welcome this judgement and are delighted for Professor Séralini. Let’s hope that we now see an end to the type of smear campaign we saw in this case and others over the last decade or so. Freedom of independent scientists to challenge the finding of scientific findings funded by an industry trying to sell seeds or chemicals is a vital element. The history of technological disasterstells us that industry and regulators are the last people to recognise and admit there is a problem. We fully support Séralini’s right to pursue his research on GM crops and wish him more power.”
Dr Brian John of GM-Free Cymru said: “This is a very gratifying outcome to a case which would never have been necessary had the GM industry followed long-standing traditions of respect for fellow scientists and honest debates with academics whose views, and research findings, do not coincide with theirs. For years now, the industry and its apologists have indulged in the vilification and intimidation of those who have the temerity to question the safety ofGM products… Some quite senior academics working for the GM industry have behaved more like thugs than scientists. Their philosophy has always been to “shoot the messenger.” Their list of victims is a long one: Arpad Pusztai, Ignacio Chapela and David Quist, Irina Ermakova, Judy Carman, Manuela Malatesta, Andres Carrasco, and many others.
“We congratulate Prof. Séralini for having the courage to stand his ground and fight back. Let’s hope his success will make GM multinationals and the regulators give independent scientists the respect that they deserve.”
More importantly, our regulators should take heed of Séralini’s findings and those of other independent scientists around the world in their persistent efforts to foist GMOs on the people.