For evidence that Big Biotech is working to suppress independent scientific research that links GMOs to health effects, you don’t have to look any further than the much-maligned 2012 study by Dr. Gilles-Eric Séralini, a professor of microbiology at the University of Caen in France.
In November 2012, he and his colleagues published a peer-reviewed study in Food & Chemical Toxicology that tested Monsanto’s NK603 maize for long-term toxicity. NK603 was engineered to tolerate Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide (generic name glyphosate) and is intended for both human and livestock consumption.
The study examined 200 rats that were fed either NK603 corn, NK603 corn cultivated with Roundup, or Roundup in their drinking water for a span of two years. It found evidence of liver and kidney toxicity in the rats exposed to GM corn and to Roundup alone. He also found that these rats had a higher incidence of tumors.
Séralini was lambasted in the media and taken to task by a chorus of scientists from around the world for the “flaws” in his study. The outcry caused Food & Chemical Toxicology to retract the study. Case closed, right?
A closer look reveals troubling evidence of pro-biotech bias.
To date, more than 1,000 scientists and scholars have signed a letter in support of Séralini, at IndependentScienceNews.com. They state: “A key pattern with risk-finding studies is that the criticisms voiced in the media are often red herrings, misleading, or untruthful. Thus, the use of common methodologies was portrayed as indicative of shoddy science when used by Séralini et al. but not when used by industry. The use of red herring arguments appears intended to sow doubt and confusion among non experts.”
The two main critiques of the study focus on the “small sample size” and the type of rats Séralini used.
What the critics don’t note is that Séralini was repeating a 2004 Monsanto study, but he used more control rats and conducted his tests over a period of two years instead of 90 days. Monsanto’s 90-day study “confirmed” NK603 corn as “safe and nutritious.”
“Séralini used the same sample size Monsanto used in its 2004 study, which concluded that NK603 was ‘safe,’” says Dr. Michael Hansen, a biologist and senior staff scientist at Consumers Union. Hansen notes that both Seralini and Monsanto used ten rats per study group. “If ten per group is too small to show an adverse effect, how come a 90- day feeding study that finds nothing is evidence of safety?” he asks.
One difference between the two studies is that Monsanto actually started with 20 rats per group but only took measurements on ten in each, meaning it could have “cherry picked the healthy ones on which to do the analysis,” notes Jeffrey Smith, executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology.
Séralini used Sprague-Dawley rats in his study, which some critics noted are “predisposed” to tumors, thus “muddying” his study results. However, Monsanto also used Sprague-Dawley rats in its 90-day feeding study.
“I can show you a number of papers that are in the public literature, including Food & Chemical Toxicology, that are carcinogenicity studies that have been conducted on Sprague-Dawley rats for two years, and they haven’t been retracted,” says Hansen.
Critics also stated that the results showing an increase in tumors weren’t statistically significant.
“That’s right, it wasn’t statistically significant for tumors, but that’s not the point,” says Hansen. “This was a chronic toxicity study, not intended to measure carcinogenicity. The word ‘cancer’ doesn’t even appear in the paper at all! But it’s normal to report anything you see, so Seralini reported the tumors.”
Dr. Gilles-Eric Seralini (second from right) with his research team. Photo from GMOSeralini.org.
Hansen also points out that Food & Chemical Toxicology is a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics, which posits only three reasons that are valid for the retraction of a paper: 1) plagiarism, 2) fraud, and 3) bad data.
Dr. A. Wallace Hayes, the journal’s editor-in-chief, admits that he “found no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data” in Séralini’s study. Says Hansen, “Food & Chemical Toxicology retracted the study because ‘the results are inconclusive.’ But that’s the language of science. Most studies end with a call for more studies to be done. That isn’t justification for a retraction.”
“Inconclusive? Until a hypothesis is proven, all results are inconclusive,” Georgetown University Medical Center professors Adrienne Fugh-Berman, MD, and Thomas G. Sherman, Ph.D. concur in a January letter to Bioethics Forum.
In addition, six months after it published Séralini’s study, Food & Chemical Toxicology brought in a new editor to specialize in papers on biotech. Richard E. Goodman worked for Monsanto from 1997-2004 as a regulatory scientist who helped the company get federal approval for biotech crops. Goodman denies involvement with the retraction.
“There are hundreds of studies that should be permanently removed from the scientific literature, but the Séralini study is not one of them,” write Sherman and Fugh-Berman. “The retraction of the Séralini study is a black mark on medical publishing, a blow to science, and a win for corporate bullies.”