We had a very lively GMO [genetically modified organism] Reference Group Meeting [in Perth, Western Australia,] this morning and I had the opportunity to lay a few concerns on the line with the Agriculture Minister, Kim Chance, particularly with respect to the Animal Feeding Study by Judy Carman and colleagues in Adelaide. Among the key points to emerge from the exchange were the following:-
1. The Minister refused to disclose the protocol for the feeding study; the list of scientists (local and international) who allegedly approved the protocol; and the members of the review committee who will address milestones.
He was reminded that this is his own Ministerial Reference Group; Western Australian taxpayers money is involved; the study never went out to tender; and is not a state mandate anyway given that WA is a signatory to the Inter-governmental Agreement on Gene Technology Regulation wherein Human Health and the Environment are a Federal jurisdiction.
2. He was also informed that his action could easily be construed as undermining public confidence in the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) and FSANZ, when the independent review of the Gene Technology Act of 2000 has already published its findings (2006) showing that Australia already has one of the most rigorous regulatory systems in the world.
3. He was also reminded that going back to December 2005 Professors Graeme Robertson (Muresk/Curtin Univ.); Stephen Powles (UWA); and Mike Jones (Murdoch/SABC) had written to him informing him that Judy Carman could not be seen as independent and she and her group have no track record in conducting animal feeding studies.
He was also reminded of international concerns for the study (expressed in writing, and responded to in Parliament); and two letters from AusBiotech (Anna Lavelle / Ian Edwards) expressing concerns, and also (in the case of Ian Edwards’ letter) calling for the studies to be halted.
4. The Minister made it clear that only when the results of the studies are published in peer-reviewed journals will he release the protocols. He contended that Bayer and Monsanto do not release details of the protocols for studies that they are currently undertaking so why should he? He said that if there is indeed a flaw in the studies then this will also be revealed upon completion! He also explained that since the commissioning of the studies was by approval of Cabinet he was not obliged to go to the tender process. He assured the Group that the studies were taking place in Australia, and specifically in Adelaide.
5. When asked whether he really believes that the study will answer the outstanding questions that he thinks the “public” still has in their minds he acknowledged that the study is unlikely to provide these answers and it may in fact raise more questions for future work. He also acknowledged that the amount of funding was very small, but “maybe Judy Carman may have other sources of funding to contribute to the study”.
6. He further maintained that ‘consumers’ are confused about the anomalies that have occurred in feeding studies; that our health regulators have a duty of care; and that they have not explained differences in feeding studies to consumers. He further claimed that “only 2 or 3 out of 137 feeding studies presented any details of the protocol involved” and posed the question “Why is there so much unanswered un-answered public information?”
7. He was challenged on this, and attention drawn to the “Risk Assessment and Risk Management Plans” prepared by the OGTR in 2003/04 in response to the Bayer and Monsanto canola submissions that received regulatory approval. These documents were then attacked by the NGO members (Network of Concerned Farmers and Organics). A summary of the key findings of the Bayer Risk Assessment was then given to the Group and I explained that Judy Carman’s claims of there being “little or no feeding studies and no allergenicity studies” did not square with the facts.
Julie Newman will be seeing Judy Carman tomorrow and will notify her that these “preposterous allegations had been made against her”. Julie also informed the meeting that Judy Carman “has a room full of files on Monsanto at her home”.
I have previously blogged on this issue here: http://www.jennifermarohasy.com/blog/archives/001067.html