Just days after two leading scientists quit the UK's advisory body on food safety amid allegations of pro-GM bias, a study has suggested the consumption of genetically modified crops may pose major health risks.
Researchers at the Russian Academy of Sciences, led by Alexey Surov, have said that hamsters eating a diet of GM food stand a greater chance of developing problems with growth and reproduction.
In the course of the two-year study, hamsters were fed GM soy beans, which account for 91 per cent of the crop in the US. After two years, most of the GM-fed hamsters were no longer able to reproduce.
Other observations included a slower growth rate and a higher mortality among the young. Four groups of hamsters were used in the experiment. One group was fed a diet without any soy. Another was fed on non-GM soy. A third were fed a diet containing some GM soy, and the last group ate a det containing higher amounts of GM soy.
After three generations, some GM-fed hamsters began to show abnormalities such as hair growing inside their mouths. The birth rate among the GM-fed group was half that of the hamsters fed non-GM soy, and infant deaths were five times higher. Of the higher GM-fed group, only one female gave birth.
Surov's findings are by no means conclusive. Speaking to news site The Voice of Russia, Surov himself warned against making assumptions. "It is quite possible that the GMO does not cause these effects by itself," he said, adding that he wanted to make analysis of the feed a priority.
The preliminary findings will increase calls for greater transparency in the UK Food Standards Agency's research into the safety of genetically modified foods. Yesterday, the Observer newspaper revealed that a pro-GM lobby group, the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, had helped to draft a key FSA report into GM.
The revelation follows raised eyebrows at the enthusiastic support for GM shown last week by the new Tory environment secretary, Caroline Spelman. Spelman helped to set up influential biotech lobby group, Spelman, Cormack & Associates, which her husband still co-owns.
European Commissioners are currently considering proposals to fast-track the approval of GM varieties for planting in Europe.