Birth control in a Frito?

A new study finds infertility in mice fed genetically modified corn. Greenpeace is excited, while Monsanto rolls its eyes.

By Andrew Leonard
Published November 14, 2008 3:43AM (UTC)
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Like vampire-hunters certain that they have finally found the magic stake that will annihilate their Satanic foe once and for all, Greenpeace and the Center for Food Safety are touting a new study purporting to show increased reproductive infertility in generations of mice that have been fed a steady diet of Monsanto's genetically modified corn.

From a news alert released by the Center for Food Safety:


Mice fed the GE corn diet had fewer litters, fewer total offspring, and more females with no offspring, than mice fed the conventional corn. The effects were particularly pronounced in the third and fourth litters, after the mice had consumed the GE corn for a longer period of time. The authors attributed the reduced fertility to the GE corn feed, and said it might be related to unintended effects of the genetic modification process.

Greenpeace, in typical fashion, is breathless:

Mice! Forget about birth control -- try GE maize instead!

The study, conducted by a team led by Dr. Jurgen Zentek, professor of veterinary medicine at the University of Vienna, and sponsored by the Austrian Ministry of Health, Families, and Youth, is a serious effort, and Monsanto isn't ignoring it. A release posted to Monsanto's home page on Tuesday notes that Zentek's study has not been peer-reviewed, and maintains that Greenpeace's press release "is inconsistent with over a decade of reputable, peer-reviewed, scientific studies, including multi-generational studies, which demonstrate and confirm the safety of GM crops." Nonetheless, Monsanto promises to "examine" the report "fully."

How the World Works does not consider either Monsanto or Greenpeace to be reliable narrators. Neither side has demonstrated any ability to approach the topic of genetically modified organisms with what I personally would consider to be an open scientific mind. While it is more than a little bit disturbing to learn that, according to Bill Freese, science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, no U.S. "regulatory agencies require any long-term animal feeding trials before allowing genetically engineered crops on the market," it is also quite true that this is just one, un-peer-reviewed study. The leader of the research group, Dr. Zentek, was appropriately cautious in interpreting his own data.


The trial indicates that dietary interactions with the host organism have to be further evaluated. Regarding the sensitivity of the topic, studies are needed to extend the database using standardized feeding trials with clear endpoints such as reproductive performance and a backup by genomic, proteomic and metabolomic traits.

More study is required! Now there's a conclusion How the World Works can fully support, before agreeing with Greenpeace's declaration that Zentek's study is "a good enough reason to close down the whole biotech industry."

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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