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Conflicts of interest at the European Food Safety Authority erode public confidence
  1. Claire Robinson1,
  2. Nina Holland2,
  3. David Leloup2,
  4. Hans Muilerman3
  1. 1Earth Open Source, London, UK
  2. 2Corporate Europe Observatory, Brussels, Belgium
  3. 3Pesticide Action Network Europe, Brussels, Belgium
  1. Correspondence to Claire Robinson, Earth Open Source, 2nd Floor 145-157, St John Street, London EC1V 4PY, UK; claire.robinson{at}

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In September 2012 Professor Gilles-Eric Séralini, a researcher at the University of Caen in France, published his team's findings that a Monsanto genetically-modified (GM) maize and Roundup herbicide caused increased rates of organ damage, tumours and mortality in rats fed over a 2-year period.1 The study was significant because it followed the rats over a long-term period, with the first tumours only appearing after 4–7 months. In contrast, the safety studies carried out by GM seed companies in support of EU authorisations typically last for a maximum of 90 days.2–4 In other words, these studies are incapable of seeing long-term effects such as those found in Séralini's study.

Europe's food safety agency, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), dismissed Séralini's study on the grounds of ‘inadequate design, analysis and reporting’.5 ,6 However, far from laying to rest public concerns about GM foods, EFSA's review of the study1 sparked renewed accusations of conflicts of interest of the type that have plagued the agency since its founding in 2002. EFSA's critics questioned the objectivity of its review because the agency's original opinion that the GM maize was safe7 had led to its EU authorisation. So, in dismissing Séralini's study, EFSA was in effect defending its own decision. Also, EFSA has argued against the need for mandatory animal feeding trials on GM foods, adding that if they are carried out, 90 days is sufficient to see any effects.8 ,9 Member of the European Parliament Corinne Lepage said that, if EFSA had accepted that Séralini's findings had any validity, this would have been equivalent to ‘cutting the branch on which the agency has sat for years’.7

EFSA was accused by scientific organisations and individual scientists of applying double standards to studies on GM foods. They said that EFSA …

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  • Funding The authors received no funding (beyond employment salaries) for their work on this paper. Corporate Europe Observatory receives funding from the Adessium Foundation, Isvara Foundation, Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation, RH Southern Trust, Sigrid Rausing Trust, J M Goldsmith Foundation, Misereor, Human Earth Foundation and Environmental Investigation Agency. Earth Open Source and GMWatch receive funding from individual donors and in 2012 from the Isvara Foundation. receives funding from individual donors and support from non-profits. Pesticide Action Network Europe receives funding from trusts and foundations, including the European Endocrine Health Initiative.

  • Competing interests CR is employed at Earth Open Source, GMWatch and NH and DL are employed at Corporate Europe Observatory. HM is employed at Pesticide Action Network Europe.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.