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Animals give GM the thumbs down
The UK Government decision to grant Aventis’s application to grow GM maize commercially in the UK was not based on the studies reported, but on two different animal-feeding trials both funded and submitted by Aventis.

The first trial fed Chardon LL maize grain to 280 young broiler chickens over 42 days, supposedly to compare the nutrient quality of GM and natural maize samples. All the chickens were allowed to eat at will. The official report claimed that no differences were found in body weight, feed intake or mortality, as compared to similar chickens fed on natural maize. Closer examination of the data gives cause for concern:

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  • During days 0-18, the GM maize grain-fed chickens consumed nine grams more than the natural maize-fed group, but during days 18-32 their consumption fell to seven grams less. During days 32-42 their consumption fell even further, to 63 grams less than that of the natural maize-fed group

  • Whereas the final average body weights and total feed intakes of the GM- and natural maize-fed chickens were not very different, there was a much wider range in individual weights and intakes amongst the GM-fed birds, suggesting that at least some of them were not thriving on the GM maize

  • Death rates during the trial in the two groups were reported to be “similar”. In fact, the average death rate in the GM-fed chickens (7.14%) was double that in the natural maize-fed chickens (3.57%)

The validity of this study was dismissed by animal nutrition expert Dr Bob Orskov [1] on the grounds that feeding maize grain to chickens could never tell you anything about feeding whole maize plants as forage to cattle.

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The second study fed diets with various mixes of protein to groups of male and female rats. The total amount of protein in each diet was the same:

Diet 1. A mix comprising 10% GM oilseed rape protein (PAT), 90% natural soya protein (SOY)
Diet 2. 100% PAT
Diet 3. 100% SOY
Diet 4. The standard diet for laboratory rats

The primary purpose of the study was to test for toxicity. The data suggests that at least some of the rats may not have been thriving on a diet including PAT:

  • Whereas the male rats eating low amounts of PAT (diets 1,3 and 4) maintained similar weights, the average weight of the male rats on diet 2 fell from being the highest to the lowest of all the male groups

  • The average weights of the female rats fed either low or high amounts of PAT (diets 1 and 2), heaviest at the outset, fell below those of the females not eating PAT (diets 3 and 4)

  • Both male and female rats consuming high amounts of PAT (diet 2) achieved lower weight gains per day, averaged over the 14 days, than those of their counterparts eating diets containing low or no PAT (diets 3 and 4)

The validity of this study was also dismissed, this time by independent toxicologist Dr Vyvyan Howard, [2] on two grounds:

  • “By feeding purified PAT protein, rather than the whole maize plant (as it would be fed to cattle), this experiment is specifically designed to not detect any unpredicted effects

  • “I do not consider that this study using rats can be used as a basis for making judgements about the safety of Chardon LL maize with respect to cattle”

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Existing scientific and anecdotal evidence indicates that farm animals prefer organically-produced to conventionally-produced feed. Now there is a growing body of anecdotal evidence that both domestic and wild animals will avoid GM feed, given the choice and, if forced to eat GM feed, do not thrive.

Ed.- (i) However bizarre, the fact that AgrEvo (later renamed Aventis and since renamed Bayer Crop Science) used chickens and maize grain, then rats and protein derived from GM oilseed rape, to prove the safety of whole GM maize plants for cattle no longer comes as any surprise. Nor does the UK Government’s readiness to accept such obviously fake science. The battle over GM is not, after all, about science or “feeding the world’s poor”, as biotech companies and their supporters pretend, but profit. What is surprising is that the UK Government still imagines that the public will accept their reassurances that GM is safe

(ii) The second study was just 14 days long, so there was no attempt to identify long-term effects.

(iii) Eva Novotny’s report for the Institute of Science in Society also mentioned:

(a) cattle’s refusal to eat GM Sheridan forage maize when they strayed into a GM crop trial field in Somerset in November 2000. [3] Sheridan contains the same genetic construct (conferring herbicide tolerance) as Chardon LL, the variety approved by the UK Government, and

(b) the article When the Corn Hits the Fan by American journalist Steven Sprinkel (19.9.99). It reported pigs which wouldn’t eat their ration when GM crops were included, cattle which went off their food or lost weight when switched to GM silage, cattle which broke through an old fence and ate all the normal corn but wouldn’t touch GM Round-up Ready corn, and deer and racoons which decimated organic crops but avoided GM crops nearby.

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[1] Dr Bob Orskov, Honorary Professor in Animal Nutrition at Aberdeen University and Director of the International Feed Resource Unit (18.10.2000)
[ 2] Dr Vyvyan Howard, Senior Lecturer and Head of the Foetal and Infant Toxicopathology Group at the University of Liverpool, and Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists (18.10.2000)
[ 3] reported by the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food 10.11.00

(10716) Eva Novotny. Institute of Science in Society