A study published last month found that the most common modification in genetically modified (GM) crops includes a significant and previously unidentified fragment of a viral gene known as Gene VI. The study, published in the journal, GM Crops and Food, said the gene “might result in unintended phenotypic changes," which means it could have unintended genetic or environmental consequences and raises serious concern about the safety of GM food and feed.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was quick to rebut these claims stating that neither does the viral fragment represent a new discovery of a viral gene nor does it indicate safety concerns in previously evaluated GMOs. The viral gene (Gene VI) belongs to a plant virus (Cauliflower Mosaic virus) that cannot infect animals or humans and therefore presents no threat to human or animal health. This virus naturally infects many plants with no recorded health effects.

EFSA also avowed that all GM plant applications assessed by EFSA that contain the inserted fragment of the viral gene in question have included a detailed analysis of the inserted sequence including extensive data required by EFSA to assess the potential for unintended effects. In its assessment of these applications, no safety concerns were identified in relation to the sequence of the inserted fragment of the viral gene and the potential for unintended effects.

On Sept. 19, a paper from a research group led by Gilles-Eric Séralini at the U. of Caen, France, was published in the Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology. The paper claimed that dietary exposure to glyphosate and a RoundUp Ready (RR) corn variety causes tumors, organ damage and premature death in lab rats. The study was highly criticized by major scientific organizations for its methodologies, particularly its use of a strain of rats that are prone to tumor development.

Mark Lynas, a British environmental activist who initiated the anti-biotech movement in the 90s, shocked the world in a Jan. 3 speech at the Oxford Farming Conference in which he detailed his conversion from an organizer of the anti-GMO food movement in Europe to becoming a supporter of that technology. The reason for his conversion – he examined the science supporting the safety and benefits of GM crops, something he had never done before.

(See related: Road to Damascus change for anti-GM apostle Mark Lynas)