EXTRACT: Professor Cooper said that because of the uncertainty over the effects of the high level of lysine, the corn should be subjected to the same testing as experimental medicines, including human trials.
Government urged to reject 'dangerous' GM corn
Two leading scientists are calling for the Government to reject a new kind of genetically modified corn which they say could be linked to a variety of diseases.
Professor Garth Cooper of Auckland University and Associate Professor Jack Heinemann of Canterbury University want tougher testing of the corn, LY038, made by international seed company Monsanto.
The corn is designed to be a more nutritious feed for animals, but because of the risk of its accidentally entering the human food chain - which officials say is slight - it needs approval as a human food before it can be used.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand last year recommended approval by the nine food ministers from both countries, but New Zealand's Food Safety Minister, Annette King, in February sought a review.
After the review, the agency has again recommended approval, saying food derived from LY038 "is as safe as food derived from other corn varieties".
But the Sustainability Council, chaired by Professor Cooper, and Canterbury University's Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety, headed by Dr Heinemann, say the high levels of lysine in LY038 make it the first GM corn designed to be substantially different from conventional corn in its nutritional profile.
"While lysine is an essential amino acid, it is also highly reactive with common sugars and the heat of cooking accelerates the formation of advanced glycation end-products."
The latter are implicated in conditions including heart disease and chronic kidney failure. They are also what cause the "browning" of foods.
The two groups say the food standards agency has failed to apply proper testing standards - by accepting a Monsanto study based on rats and chickens fed with raw corn when humans eat it cooked; and by not consistently comparing LY038 with a GM-free corn, contrary to international standards.
"This decision is precedent-setting as once one GM bio-industrial product is accepted as a food on this basis, the stage is set for a raft of other products - including plants producing industrial and medical substances - to be approved using this lower safety standard." They say Ms King should exercise New Zealand's right to opt out of accepting the new corn.
Professor Cooper said that because of the uncertainty over the effects of the high level of lysine, the corn should be subjected to the same testing as experimental medicines, including human trials.
"The currently available safety data for the proposed high-lysine corn is judged to fall far short of the quality required for adequate pharmacological safety assessment," he said.
Ms King's spokesman said yesterday she would not comment until the transtasman ministerial food council's decision was released next week.
The agency said in its review report that its assessment of LY038 was "entirely consistent" with international guidelines and its own.
Spokeswoman Lydia Buchtmann denied that lower standards had been applied and said the assessment included comparison with conventionally-grown corn.
"We think Jack Heinemann has misinterpreted a lot of the things he has raised."
When asked if human feeding trials were necessary, she said: "Lysine is an amino acid; it's part of a protein; it's something we eat every day.
"It's nothing new. It's just genetically modified to make this a high-lysine corn, so animals thrive better and grow better."
Government urged to reject "dangerous" GM corn