The approval of GM maize MON810 in Brazil in 2007 was highly controversial, with two Brazilian government ministries opposing commercialisation on the grounds that Monsanto had not proven it safe for human health and the environment.
When the Brazilian GMO regulator CNTBio approved Monsanto's GM maize MON810 in 2007, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Environment saw problems with the approval and referred it to the Biosecurity Council (Conselho de Bioseguranca). The Council is formed by eleven ministers and meets when a ministry objects to a GMO which CTNBio has approved. This time, these two ministries objected.
The Council ended up approving MON810, in the face of strong objections from these ministries and detailed reports about the flaws of MON810 from the food safety agency ANVISA (part of the Ministry of Health and equivalent to the FDA in the US) and the environmental protection agency IBAMA (equivalent to the US EPA).
ANVISA stated in its report that the data provided by Monsanto did not allow it to conclude on the safety of MON810 for human and animal consumption (pp. 25-27).
ANVISA was concerned about the fact that Monsanto had tested the toxicity of the Cry1Ab protein (the Bt toxin protein that gives MON810 its insecticidal ability) isolated from a culture of genetically modified E. coli bacteria, rather than the protein isolated from the GM maize. ANVISA said this was "inadequate to prove the safety of use for human consumption of GM maize expressing this insecticidal protein".
This same point about the inadequacy of testing proteins expressed in bacteria has been made by many scientists, among them Dr Arpad Pusztai. Yet regulatory authorities all over the world, including EFSA in Europe, continue to approve GM Bt crops on the basis of tests performed on the protein isolated from E. coli bacteria, which is not representative of the protein expressed by the GM plant.
MON810 was tested for its European approval in a short 90-day rat feeding trial, which Monsanto claimed showed no differences in GM-fed animals. Prof GE Seralini's team reanalysed Monsanto's data, which had been forced into the open via a court case, and concluded that signs of toxicity were noticeable in the GM maize-fed animals.
ANVISA also stated in its report that MON810 was not substantially equivalent to the non-GM parent maize.
IBAMA stated in its report that the gene sequence in the GM maize was different from how it was described by Monsanto. It added that independent research had concluded that there had been unintended genetic rearrangements during the GM transformation process and that the GM gene did not encode for all the amino acids encoded by the native gene.
Both agencies - the only two with expertise on issues relating to human health and the environment - demanded an immediate suspension of CTNBio's authorisation of the maize.
This however did not prevent the victory of the pro-GM group in the Biosecurity Council. The final score was 7-4 in favour of MON810.
Still, the vote was divided, with the Ministries of Health, Environment, and Rural Development and the Fisheries Agency voting against MON810. Those that voted in favour were the Office of the Presidency, and the Ministries of Agriculture, Science and Technology, Development, Justice, Defense, and Foreign Affairs.
While he wouldn't have voting rights in the Council, part of his job description was advising the members of the Council on matters that come before them (see subsection IV, item VII).
Vasconcelos also helped write the Biosecurity Law of 2005, which regulates GMOS in Brazil.
Monsanto and the Office of the Presidency said they didn't see any conflict of interest.
In an interesting parallel with the case of former Monsanto attorney Clarence Thomas, who was appointed as a judge to the US Supreme Court and has controversially sat in judgement on matters involving GMOs, this year Vasconcelos almost became a judge of the Supreme Court of Brazil. He was rejected, apparently not due to his past association with Monsanto but because he was too young.
Meanwhile, while several EU countries have banned the cultivation of MON810, it is still imported into Europe as food and feed. Pro-GM advocates like to cite such situations as being a sign of Europe's hypocrisy on GMOs. In fact it's a sign of the illicit power of Monsanto over our food supply.
Download ANVISA's and IBAMA's reports on MON810 (in Portuguese) here: