Seralini vs Fellous: a GMO libel case over independent expertise and science

On 23rd November there was an action to support Gilles-Eric Seralini's court case, against Marc Fellous of the Association Française des Biotechnologies Végétales (AFBV) for libel. The case is being heard in the Tribunal de Grande Instance, in the historic Palais de Justice on the Ile de la Cite, Paris. Seralini is a leading researcher into the risks of GMOs.

The public meeting on the occasion of the court case was hosted by the Fondation Sciences Citoyennes and focused on the importance of independent science in the public interest and warned against the dangerous dependency on industry 'expertise' by public authorities today.

Séralini has undertaken the crucial task of re-analysing the data presented by Monsanto and various member states on the health impacts of three Monsanto GM maize varieties (MON 863, MON 810 and NK603). He found that there were "signs of hepatorenal toxicity, possibly due to the new pesticides specific to each GM corn", but both EFSA and Monsanto dismissed the result of the findings. Seralini's research, and his consistent critique of the approval processes for the Monsanto crops, have made him unpopular in biotech circles.

Séralini is suing for libel following a smear campaign, which appears to have come from the French scientific organisation for biotechnology, the Association Française des Biotechnologies Végétales. Seralini believes the researchers Claude Allegre, Axel Kahn, and Marc Fellous are behind the campaign and that is why he is pursuing Fellous in the courts. He argues that the campaign has damaged his reputation, reducing his opportunities for work and his chances of getting funding for his research.

The public meeting supporting Seralini's case showed that resistance against GMOs is strong in France. Philippe Martin, General Councillor of the Department of Gers in the Midi-Pyrenees, accounted how this region has taken the European Commission to the European Court of Justice for violating the precautionary principle by authorising new GMO varieties. Now, also Hungary, Austria and Poland are supporting this case.

A French parliamentarian, Martine Billard, Parti de Gauche, member of the committee on health and consumer affairs, recounted how she had called in Seralini’s help to get informed on the health impacts of Roundup, Monsanto's flagship herbicide. Séralini explained to her that industry benefits from the fact that it is only required to evaluate the glyphosate molecule and not the entire product to assess if it is safe or not. She said that without that explaination she couldn't have understood the impacts of Roundup. Séralini did a study into the impacts of glyphosate in 2005. In 2007, Monsanto was fined in a French court for misleading the public about the environmental impact of Roundup, falsely advertising Roundup as "biodegradable" and "leaving the soil clean".

A representative of CRIIGEN, a French research institute, explained how the Bt-maize cultivation in France has not led to a reduction of pesticide use; nor has it led to higher production. "It's hallucinating that the impacts of GM maize on human health have only been tested by feeding 80 rats during 90-day studies with this GM maize", the CRIIGEN representative said. On top of that, these studies have been carried out by Monsanto, not by independent scientists. Even so, the interpretation of Monsanto’s research results by CRIIGEN, was different from Monsanto's own conclusions."

Marie Blandin, Senator of Nord for the Europe Ecologie Les Verts party and told the meeting about the authorities' aggressive response to the GMO-free region initiative which had spontaneously led to a new group of 'faucheurs volontaires' (voluntary GM field liberators) in one community. She said that even though the EU was inhabited by lobbyists, it was more transparent and democratic than the French parliament. When a pro-GMO amendment was passed, the close relationship between a French parliamentarian, Jean Bizet, and the biotech industry lobbyists, was exposed by a public channel. "We are no longer promoting research that feeds knowledge that later leads to applications. It is the other way around, public money is going to laboratories developing GM varieties", she said.

In January, there will be a ruling in the case of Seralini vs Fellous. During the trial, it was revealed that Fellous, who presents himself as a 'neutral' scientist without personal interests, and who accused those who criticise GMOs as 'ideological' and 'militant', owns patents through a company based in Israel. This company sell patents to many corporations such as Aventis. Seralini’s lawyer showed that various other AFBV members have links with agribusiness companies.