Problems with the risk assessment of transgenic plants still unresolved

New study highlights health risks

3. October 2023

4 October 2023 / The current EU Commission under the presidency of Ursula von der Leyen, has granted two dozen new approvals since 2019 for the import and marketing of transgenic plants. At the same time, the EU Parliament has passed resolutions against every one of these approvals – all adopted with a large majorities. However, the EU Commission has not taken a single one of these resolutions into consideration when making decisions. There have also been no initiatives to improve safety standards for approvals procedures.

The EU Parliament only recently adopted two more resolutions against the import of genetically modified maize. One of the maize lines is resistant to several herbicides and produces various insecticidal proteins. The EU Parliament once again criticised the inadequacy of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) risk assessment.

Recent scientific publications highlight some of the unresolved risks: a new study (published as a preprint) indicates that one of the insect toxins (Cry1Ac) produced by genetically modified plants triggers responses in human intestinal cells, which can result in intestinal inflammation. Another study published in 2022 describes similar toxins (Cry1A) having surprising effects on the intestinal cells of model organisms (Drosophila), thus impairing their functionality.

For many years a key part of Testbiotech’s ongoing activities has been to examine EU approvals. We regularly publish background reports on the risk assessment of transgenic maize, soybean, cotton and canola. Just recently, Testbiotech published a new backgrounder on a maize that produces six different insecticides and is resistant to two herbicides (glyphosate and glufosinate).

After holding a number of workshops in 2021with scientists, the EFSA and the EU Commission, Testbiotech published a comprehensive report on the gaps in the risk assessment of transgenic plants. In addition, some of our work has been published in internationally-recognised scientific journals. In summary, it appears that the risks associated with GM crops are much more complex than expected, and go far beyond what is currently considered in risk assessment. Crop safety is assumed on the basis of approval processes that examine only those risks which are easiest to assess.

Consequently, since the introduction of the first transgenic crops some 30 years ago, the uncertainties around food safety have been increasing – risks may also have accumulated unnoticed in the food chain. At the same time, EFSA and the Commission have not been able to establish sufficiently robust criteria and testing methods or raise safety standards in response.

Testbiotech believes there is very little chance of resolving these problems within the current term of the EU Commission. However, there is a small chance that General Court of the European Union might clarify the position: Testbiotech took a case to the Court in 2021 in regard to two market approvals and asked for the EU Commission decisions to be re-examined. The court ruling is expected on 18 October.


Christoph Then,, Tel +49 151 54638040

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