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MEPs unhappy with EFSA assessment of Seralini study

MEPs to call in Seralini and EFSA for hearing
EU Food Policy
7 December 2012

MEPs decided this week to invite Eric Gilles Seralini and European Food Safety Authority officials to the Parliament to debate Prof Seralini's findings on the genetically modified maize NK603.

Several MEPs, including Richard Seeber, a coordinator for food for the centre-right EPP political group, said they were not satisfied with the EFSA assessment of the Seralini study.

Mr Seeber, who is in the largest political group, said EFSA rules on independence needed to be tightened and that it should be more transparent. Industry had too much influence over the Authority, he argued.

He and other MEPs said EFSA had reached its conclusions too quickly and that the Seralini work, which claimed NK603 caused cancer in rats, needed to be looked at by independent people in a more detailed way.

The chair of the Petitions Committee, Erminia Mazzoni, also an EPP member, said Prof Seralini and a representative of EFSA would be invited to a meeting. The MEPs were discussing a petition submitted by Brian John, of GM Free Cymru (Wales), to the Petitions Committee.

The most damaging allegation made by Mr John was the claim that Per Bergman, an EFSA director, and Andrew Chesson, a member of the GMO panel, had organised a teleconference to discredit Prof Seralini and limit the damage to EFSA.

Mr John said the teleconference, with four member states, had not discussed "health and safety" but been designed to "eliminate dissent", according to minutes published by the Dutch authorities, who took part along with France, Belgium and Germany.

Mr John said EFSA had set up a "multidisciplinary task force" charged with attacking the Seralini study on all fronts.

Politically expedient

He said the teleconference "was to limit the damage to EFSA and the Commission, to achieve politically expedient outcomes, and to protect the reputations of those who have promoted GMOs in Europe over the past decade".

He argued that EFSA had been "self-selecting" in the information given to a "gullible media" in its press release of 28 November. "The GMO Panel is not fit for purpose," he said.

DG SANCO director Eric Poudelet was the only person at the Petitions Committee to defend EFSA or say anything at all in favour of the Authority.

Mr Poudelet argued that EFSA's work had been extremely detailed, that it had given access to scientific documents (eight requests) and defended EFSA's independence.

He said that six other member states had reached similar conclusions to EFSA on the Seralini study and that agencies in New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Canada and the United States reached the same conclusions. He strongly rejected the idea that there was some kind of conspiracy.

But the British Green MEP, Ken Taylor, tore into EFSA saying that nobody with an interest in the biotech industry should be on its GMO panel and that the Commission was behaving in "a cavalier manner". He and Vicente Miguel Garces Ramon, a Socialist, argued that it was essential to have more long-term studies on GMOs.

The Danish Green, Margete Auken, argued that "industry is still all over EFSA", in some of the most outspoken comments made at the meeting. Other MEPs expressed concern over the discovery of honey contaminated by GM pollen.

In a separate petition, Mr John criticised the guidelines for GMOs devised by EFSA which the European Commission is to make binding. The Petitions Committee said they would leave this petition open, which means they will continue to pursue it.

An EFSA spokesperson said the Authority had not been invited to the meeting in the Parliament, but that EFSA would be invited to a meeting on the same subject at a later date.

He said the Authority denied the allegations made by Mr John. "Teleconferences with risk assessment bodies in member states are key in helping to inform EFSA's work. EFSA cooperates with member states on a regular basis in order to discuss ongoing scientific issues."

He said EFSA was specifically asked by the Commission when evaluating the Seralini study to take into consideration assessments carried out in member states. "The teleconference was called to address any questions, clarifications or diverging views."

He said each member state was given time to explain their interpretation of the Seralini paper and to ask questions of other participating member states. EFSA's Founding Regulation calls on EFSA to identify as early as possible any potentially diverging scientific opinions, he stressed.