Review of GMO safety assessment studies: glyphosate residues in Roundup Ready crops is an ignored issue
Background - Genetically modified glyphosate-tolerant cultivar varieties have been a commercial success widely known as Roundup Ready plants. As new glyphosate-tolerant varieties are introduced to satisfy agriculture demand, it is relevant to review the scientific evidence that documents the quality and safety of such biotechnology. Assessments of genetically modified glyphosate-tolerant plants are partly based on the reports from laboratory comparisons with non-modified plants (near-isogenic relatives). Such comparative testing is typically performed as analysis of plant material composition and in animal feeding studies. The material for testing is typically produced in test-fields set up as model environments. Most of this research is planned, performed and reported by researchers employed by biotech industry companies.
Perspective - The present paper aims to: (1) review 15 reports on compositional analyses of glyphosate-tolerant cultivars and 15 reports from animal feeding studies, (2) discuss recent data indicating glyphosate residue in Roundup Ready soybean, (3) outline recent developments of cultivars with increased tolerance to glyphosate.
Findings - The reviewed industry studies show methodological flaws: glyphosate-tolerant GM crops are designed for use with glyphosate herbicide. However, glyphosate herbicides are often not applied in test-study cultivation. In the studies where glyphosate herbicides were applied to growing plants, the produced plant material was not analyzed for glyphosate residues. This review has failed to identify industry studies that mention glyphosate residues in glyphosate-tolerant plants. This indicates that questions and evidence of importance for regulatory assessment have been systematically ignored. Independent research has investigated this issue and found that glyphosate-tolerant plants accumulate glyphosate residues at unexpected high levels. Glyphosate residues are found to have potential to affect plant material composition. Furthermore, these residues are passed on to consumers.
Conclusions - Industry studies are not sufficient for regulation. Despite decades of risk assessments and research in this field, specific unanswered questions relating to safety and quality aspects of food and feed from GM crops need to be addressed by regulators. Independent research gives important supplementary insight.