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Austrian Study Finds Eating GE Corn May Reduce Fertility

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A study sponsored by the Austrian Ministries for Agriculture and Health found that mice fed a genetically engineered corn developed by Monsanto Company produced fewer offspring than those fed conventional corn.

Fewer litters, fewer and smaller offspring, no offspring

The study was led by Dr. Jürgen Zentek, Professor of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Vienna. For 20 weeks, Dr. Zentek and his team fed mice diets consisting of either 33% genetically engineered (GE) corn, or 33% of a closely related non-GE variety. The diets were otherwise nutritionally equivalent.

Mice fed the GE corn diet had fewer litters, fewer total offspring, smaller offspring, and more females with no offspring, than mice feed 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. Dr. Zentek and fellow researchers wrote, "The number of females without litters decreased with time in the GM and ISO group, especially in the fourth generation. In the group fed with [a non-GM corn cultivated in Austria] fewer females were without litters, and accordingly more pups were weaned." They also wrote that the study was the first investigating a stacked GM event in multigeneration study focussing on mice in reproduction and development. Dr. Zentek said that further studies are "urgently needed" to corroborate his team's findings.

"This meticulous study suggests that a popular type of genetically engineered corn may harbor fertility-reducing substances," said Bill Freese, Science Policy Analyst at the Center for Food Safety and coauthor of a peer-reviewed study on GE crop regulation. "It's no surprise to us that US regulators did not catch this. None of our regulatory agencies require any long-term animal feeding trials before allowing genetically engineered crops on the market."

Calls for a ban on GE foods

Environmental and consumer groups called for an immediate moratorium on GE foods. "If this is not reason enough to close down the whole biotech industry once and for all, I am not sure what kind of disaster we are waiting for," said Dr. Jan van Aken, GE expert at Greenpeace International.

"GM foods are likely responsible for several negative health trends in the US. The government must impose an immediate ban on these dangerous crops," said Jeffrey Smith, executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology.

As expected, Monsanto Company, developer of the GE crop in question, criticized the Austrian study, saying it was not peer-reviewed and that it contained "significant flaws in the study reporting and analysis which bring serious question to the validity of the findings."

Interestingly, the Austrian study was widely reported in Europe, but not in the United States where only the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the online industry outlet Foodnavigator- USA.com reported the findings.