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Ethical committee fails to answer BUAV questions about cruel GM maize research

30/05/2013

In October last year, the BUAV together with our partners in the European Coalition to End Animal Experiments (ECEAE), raised concerns about animals used in a French study on genetically modified (GM) maize and weed-killer. In January we wrote to the local ethical review committee of Caen University in France requesting that the matter be investigated. Four months later, and despite reminders, we have yet to receive a reply.  

In the experiment conducted at Caen University, rats were fed a diet of GM maize that had been sprayed with weed killer for their entire lives (about two years). 1 The experiment essentially duplicated earlier research that had already found no risk to humans, but French researchers wanted to repeat the study. The study has received wide criticism from the scientific establishment because of the statistical approach and the use of a strain of rat that is prone to develop cancer as they age anyway.2

The researchers allowed the rats to suffer from shockingly large tumours that were up to 25% of the rat’s body weight. 50% of males and 70% of females were found dead during the experiment or were killed when the tumours reached this size. The US National Research Institute states that multiple tumours should not exceed the maximum burden of a single tumour of 25mm for rats3, the US Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee says that tumours should be no larger than 40mm in adult rats4 and the US National Academies Research Council says that tumour burden should not usually exceed 5% of the animal’s normal body weight.5 However, the researchers set their ‘humane endpoint’ (the point at which animals should be euthanized) at cancerous tumours 25% of the animal’s body weight. Photographs in the paper show rats with tumours of 70mm (7cm) in length.

In the first ECEAE letter, we asked the ethical committee to explain why the experiment was granted ethical approval and if they were aware that tumours would be allowed to grow to a size exceeding the humane endpoint recommended by international guidelines. We are disappointed that the committee has failed to take the issue seriously and that to date they have refused to engage with us.

We have now asked the French Government to investigate. 

1. Seralini, G-E et al. Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize Food Chem. Toxicol. 50, 4221-4231 (2012).  

2. Butler, D. Rat study sparks GM furore. Nature 489, 484 (27 September 2012) http://www.nature.com/news/rat-study-sparks-gm-furore-1.11471 

3. Workman P. et al. Br. J. Cancer 102, 1555-1577 (2010).

4. The US Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) 2009 IUCAC/LARC Standard Procedures Guidelines For Tumor Production In Rats And Mice. Available at: http://www.iacuc.ucsf.edu/Policies/awSPsubq.asp

5. US National Academies National Research Council report on Recognition and Alleviation of Pain in Laboratory Animals. National Academies Press 2009.