Science in Society Archive

Assessment of Environmental and Health Risks of GMOs and Associated Pesticides

Project for a One-Year Postdoctoral Fellowship
for Pr. G.E. Séralini's team

Proposed Project

The proposed project is to analyze pesticides in the organs of rats fed GMOs (genetically modified organisms) (Séralini et al., 2014). We already have these organs in storage. The GMO was treated with Roundup, the herbicide it was engineered to tolerate.

Scientists still do not know what levels of residues can bioaccumulate from a GMO-rich diet. Around 80% of agricultural GMOs are Roundup-tolerant plants, which are permitted to contain residues of glyphosate at a level of up to 500 ppm. Transgenic soy imported into the EU has been found to routinely contain 10-100 ppm. Our previous research found toxic effects in rats from 0.1 ppb (1000 times less). A rigorous scientific paper based on this work will shed new light on GMO toxicology and bring pressure to bear for more stringent regulation.

Cost: One year postdoctoral fellowship: 40 000 euros all taxes included (including salary, standard tuition fee for French universities, plus 10 000 euros TTC for materials and chemicals.

Total sum requested: 50 000 euros TTC.

Support Séralini Team for GMO Risk Research - CRIIGEN

Project Goals

Agricultural GMOs contain pesticides and chemical pollutants such as polycyclic hydrocarbons and plasticizers. Our proposed project will reveal whether and to what extent they bioaccumulate in the food chain and our bodies, whether they have synergistic effects, how they affect human cells and mammalian health, and whether they have long-term or time-delayed impacts. Science has very limited understanding of these issues.

Our first goal is to improve the regulatory system for the commercialization of pesticides and chemicals, tightening the safety limits for the assessment of mixtures in formulations (such as all pesticides sold in stores) and leading to restrictions or bans.

Our second goal is to work on detoxification. We have conducted studies on new drugs extracted from organic plants and combined in mixtures (commercially available in pharmacies since 2008) that stimulate newly discovered genes controlling detoxification. We found that they help to eliminate polluting compounds from the body (Gasnier et al., 2010, 2011). They work effectively in human umbilical cord cells and in patients (Sevene Pharma company). They represent the new ecomedicine that should be developed in the 21st century.

Our third goal is to improve the international regulation of new widely used technologies, such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and nanotechnology. Most GMOs contain pesticides in their cells. Roundup herbicide is used on over 80% of cultivated commercialized GMOs and combinations of Bt toxins in GM Bt crops are actively toxic to human cells (Mesnage et al., 2012). Some GMOs are engineered to contain drugs, such as the GM salmon engineered to contain transgenic growth hormone (Le Curieux-Belfond et al., 2009). Currently no GMO is assessed for safety for mammalian health for more than 3 months in rats (equivalent to around only 7 years in human terms).

The proposed work necessarily involves a transdisciplinary approach, with multiple international collaborations. The first level is a molecular and cellular biology approach in the laboratory at the University of Caen (Normandy, France). We propose to use the most modern in vitro techniques (not in living animals or humans) to study the biochemical and cellular effects of pollutants and pesticides associated with GMOs and other substances unrelated to GMOs. We also have access to in vivo approaches, as one of Gilles-Eric Séralini’s former PhD students manages a laboratory according to the highest OECD standards, where live rats can be fed pesticides and GMOs.

Limitations Of Current Scientific Methods And Knowledge

Currently, assessment of human health impacts of pollutants is carried out via epidemiological studies, which look at the relationship between exposure to a certain substance and a given disease over short timescales. This works well for microbial impacts but not for pollutants affecting human health. The latter affect multiple bodily systems and act in combinations over long-term periods (Benachour et al., 2012) – factors which make the effects difficult to evaluate through epidemiology.

However, epidemiology is still used as the obligatory final step to close a debate on the health impacts of a substance, or to classify a compound as dangerous under national or international regulations. We have explained to government authorities that this system should be abolished and replaced by biochemical, cellular, and laboratory animal studies, farm and wildlife observations, and human case studies, for example, in factory workers, rather than waiting for epidemic deaths (Seralini et al., 2011). Actively implementing the precautionary principle will benefit industrial progress, as well as human health and well-being.

The current proposal is for fundamental and applied research to understand and cure the effects of pollution on human health and on environment. If 20th century medicine was devoted to fighting microbial diseases and to progress in surgery, 21st century medicine demands that we make progress in understanding the effects of pollution and GMOs, and that we learn to manage this problem.

For the first time in history, a single species – humans – has radically affected biodiversity and artificially transformed heredity, the ecosystem, and natural resources.  NATO has stated that we are in the midst of the 6th geological extinction of species and has called for international meetings to restore biodiversity.

Project Background

In our previously published studies, we investigated experimentally the most sensitive human cells, such as embryonic, fresh placental, and umbilical cord cells, avoiding the use of live embryos. Between 2005 and 2013 we published 22 papers (for example, Richard et al., 2005; Mesnage et al., 2013) on the mechanisms of toxicity for Roundup, the most widely used herbicide in the world, which has historically been believed to be benign, and on the synergistic effects of the ten major chemical pollutants of rivers and surface waters. These papers are available upon request.

We have found that bioaccumulated pollutants penetrate into and between our cells, disrupting the essential network for cellular communication in multiple and precise ways. We also found that Roundup and a maize variety (known as NK603) genetically modified to tolerate this herbicide provoked kidney and liver disorders, mammary tumours, and premature death in mammals in lifelong experiments (Séralini et al., 2012, 2014). We subsequently published our reply to all criticisms levelled at this research (Séralini et al., 2013).

Based on our research to date, we believe that chemical pollutants, including GMOs, are largely responsible for environmentally-induced pathologies such as cancers, as well as the immune, neurological, hormonal, and reproductive diseases that affect humans globally. All living organisms contain several dozen chemical pollutants, including pesticides from GMOs, that did not exist before the second world war. We have dispersed hundreds of millions of tonnes of these chemicals in the ecosystem. Most are stable and toxic and penetrate every form of life. For instance, results show that there is no human breastmilk on the planet that is free from insecticides (such as DDT) and plasticizers. There is no fetus without several hundred pollutants attached to its genes. There is no Member of the European Parliament measured without at least fifty pollutants in his blood. The research program at WWF that discovered these facts was directed by one of Gilles-Eric Séralini’s previous PhD students, O. LeCurieux-Belfond.

Impacts Of Our Past Research

We have proposed more stringent regulation for agricultural GMOs, including long-term mammalian health assessments (Séralini et al., 2011). Through our in vitro studies in human cells and our in vivo studies in rats, we have worked to improve the transparency of regulatory assessment and the rigour of regulatory toxicological studies, in order to understand the real impacts of GMOs and associated pesticides.

Our work has had an impact on international regulation (labelling of GMOs, threshold of pesticides they can contain, improvement of assessment, transparency of blood analysis during regulatory tests, moratorium in Europe, Cartagena Protocol on Biodiversity, assessment of GM aubergine in India, and a halt on the commercialization of GM salmon in North America). Some of these achievements contributed to Gilles-Eric Séralini’s being awarded the French Order of Merit. Gilles-Eric Séralini is president of the scientific council of CRIIGEN (President of Honour: Corinne Lepage, former French Minister of Environment and former Member of the European Parliament).

Gilles-Eric Séralini coordinates the work of the Network on Risks, Quality and Sustainable Development affiliated to CNRS (National Center of Scientific Research in France) at the University of Caen, to develop a transdisciplinary biological and chemical approach to the characterization of the effects of pesticides on beneficial bacteria, on GM maize, and on soil composition. Prof Séralini works with lawyers, economists, and sociologists to improve the legislation on chemicals and GMOs and the methodologies for their assessment, as well as to shed new light on the interactions between health and environment.

Through CRIIGEN (Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering) and ENSSER (the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility), which we co-founded, we have had an international impact on research and regulatory regimes for GMOs and pesticides. We have developed collaborations and research expertise on these subjects. Our approach is always multidisciplinary. We have provided expert consultancy services on chemicals and GMOs to large food distribution companies, NGOs, and French and European government authorities (for example, in the WTO conflict with the USA on GMO labelling). We have also contributed our expertise to the reassessment of Roundup by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and to the assessment of GM salmon in Canada and GM aubergine in India.

Publications (In Chronological Order)

  1. Richard, S., Moslemi, S., Sipahutar, H., Benachour, N., Seralini, G.E.(2005) Differential Effects of Glyphosate and Roundup on Human Placental Cells and Aromatase. Environ. Health Perspect. 113(6), 716-20. IF=5.9.
  2. Le Curieux-Belfond, O.,Vandelac, L., Caron, J., Séralini, G.E. (2009). Factors to Consider Before Production and Commercialization of Aquatic Genetic Modified Organisms: The Case of Transgenic Salmon. Environ. Science and Policy. 12, 2, 170-189
  3. Gasnier, C., Benachour, N., Clair, E., Travert, C., Langlois, F., Laurant, C., Decroix-Laporte, C., Séralini, G.E. (2010) Dig1 protects against cell death provoked by glyphosate-based herbicide in human liver cell lines. J. Occup. Med. Toxicol. 5:29.
  4. Gasnier, C., Laurant, C., Decroix-Laporte, C., Mesnage, R., Clair, E., Travert, C., Séralini, G.E. (2011) Defined plant extracts can protect human cells against combined xenobiotic effets, J. Occup. Med. Toxicol.6:3.
  5. Séralini G.E., Mesnage, R., Clair E., Gress S., Spiroux de Vendomois J., Cellier D. (2011) Genetically modified crops safety assessments : present limits and possible improvements. Environ. Sci. Eu
  6. Benachour, N., Clair, E., Mesnage, R., Séralini, G-E. (2012) "Endocrine Disruptors : New discoveries and possible progress of evaluation". Chapter In Advances in Medicine and Biology. Ed. Leon V. Berhardt, Nova Science Publishers Inc. 29, 1-58.
  7. Mesnage, R., Clair, E., Gress, S., Then, C., Székacs, A., Séralini, G-E. (2012) Cytotoxicity on human cells of Cry1Ab and Cry1Ac Bt insecticidal toxins alone or with a glyphosate-based herbicide. Journal of Applied Toxicology. 33:695-699
  8. Séralini, G.E., Clair, E., Mesnage, R. Gress, S., Defarge, N. Malatesta, M. Hennequin, D. Spiroux de Vendômois, J. (2012) Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food and Chem. Tox. 50:4221-4231
  9. Séralini, G.E., Mesnage, R., Defarge, N., Gress, S., Hennequin, D., Clair, E., Malatesta, M., Spiroux de Vendômois, J. (2013) Answers to critics: why there is a long term toxicity due to NK603 Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize and to a Roundup herbicide. Food and Chem. Tox. 53:461-468
  10. Mesnage, R., Bernay, B., Séralini, G-E. (2013) Ethoxylated adjuvants of glyphosate-based herbicides are active principles of human cell toxicity. Toxicology. 313:122-128
  11. Séralini, G.E., Clair, E., Mesnage, R., Gress, S., Defarge, N., Malatesta, M. Hennequin, D. Spiroux de Vendômois, J. (2014) Republished study: Long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Environ. Sci. Eu. 26:14 (17 pages).

Article first published 20/11/14

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There are 4 comments on this article so far. Add your comment above.

David Westebbe Comment left 3rd December 2014 07:07:22
Why do you use this unusual funding mechanism, rather than more usual methods of funding scientific research?

刘志媛 Comment left 7th December 2014 03:03:49
Thank you all.We are waiting for your achievement .Good luck, my friends.I am a Chinese Mom,I can't speak english well.I Mean We feel grateful Because of you.

Haritz Mayora Comment left 25th December 2014 05:05:29
David, I guess they choose this "unusual funding mechanism" because that way we all can assure that the research is carried out independently, without interferences by the interested companies, or the lobby-driven governments. That's what I guess...

Maribel Cordero Gil Comment left 24th November 2015 19:07:06
No podemos consentir que sigan envenenando nuestro Planeta y a la Humanidad. Exijamos su retirada inmediata a nuestros gobiernos!