Study results inflame the issue of genetically modified food and herbicides (UPDATE)

Study on Monsanto GM corn concerns draws skepticism | Reuters.

In a study that prompted sharp criticism from other experts, French scientists said on Wednesday that rats fed on Monsanto’s genetically modified corn or exposed to its top-selling weedkiller suffered tumors and multiple organ damage.

The French government asked the country’s health watchdog to investigate the findings further, although a number of scientists questioned the study’s basic methods and Monsanto said it felt confident its products had been proven safe.

Experts not involved in the study were skeptical, with one accusing the French scientists of going on a “statistical fishing trip” and others describing its methods as well below standard.

Experts asked by reporters to review the scientific paper advised caution in drawing conclusions from it.

Tom Sanders, head of the nutritional sciences research division at King’s College London, noted that Seralini’s team had not provided any data on how much the rats were given to eat, or what their growth rates were.

“Based on the conclusion …, the government will ask the European authorities to take all necessary measures to protect human and animal health, measures that could go as far as an emergency suspension of imports of NK603 maize in the European Union,” the French health, environment and farm ministries said in a joint statement.

Tip: Meg

This is some serious stuff. Based on this study, they are asking for some drastic measures to be considered. With the study under scrutiny and this being a HIGHLY contentious and emotional issue, sparks are FLYING. Stay tuned. Updates to follow…

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UPDATE (20-Sept-2012) Indeed, a tsunami of public comment has occurred in response to this study. Problems with study methodology, statistics, reporting, bias/conflict of interest and mechanism have all been raised. One point that was raised worthy of consideration is the widespread use of both these products. If they are so dangerous, why is there not an already recognized issue? One study does not clear out all the rest in one swoop. Here are some of the rebuttals:

Washington Post: French Scientists question safety of GM corn

Tom Helscher, director of corporate affairs for Monsanto, sent a statement that noted more than a 100 peer-reviewed animal studies have confirmed the safety of biotech crops, but added that the company would review the French study ”thoroughly, as we do all studies that relate to our products and technologies.”

Helscher also pointed out that Seralini and his colleagues have made similarly faulty conclusions in the past, notably in 2007 when they analyzed a previously published 90-day animal study about Monsanto maize. The European Food Safety Authority, which reviewed the paper at the request of the European Union, found no merit in Seralini’s report, concluding:

“EFSA considers that the paper does not present a sound scientific justification in order to question the safety of [Monsanto] maize.”

“[I] can’t figure it out yet,” said Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University. “It’s weirdly complicated and unclear on key issues: what the controls were fed, relative rates of tumors, why no dose relationship, what the mechanism might be. I can’t think of a biological reason why GMO corn should do this.”

A collection is a available from the Science Media Centre

The full paper is available here (PDF)

  8 comments for “Study results inflame the issue of genetically modified food and herbicides (UPDATE)

  1. September 20, 2012 at 5:11 AM

    The mechanism by which this might occur is sketchy at best. I would like to see a prospective replication by scientists from a nation without such a strong political bias against GM crops. Hopefully the process of science does what it’s good at and with future research irons this issue out once and for all. I for one would really like GM crops to be a safe high yield alternative for people who are struggling to feed themselves to rely on.

  2. One Eyed Jack
    September 20, 2012 at 5:47 AM

    No link to the French study in the Reuter’s article. I tried to search for the Food and Chemical Toxicology article that is mentioned, but Reuter’s doesn’t list the article title. Standard, sloppy journalism.

    Without the ability to read the actual study, debate is useless. However, comments from those that have reviewed the research tell a story of poor technique and vague methodology. As one reviewer noted, these findings are so dramatic and so removed from previous findings, one really has to question the validity of the study.

    Gilles-Eric Seralini, the author of the research, has a history of an anti-GMO pundit, so there may be some question as to the objectivity of this study.

    Personally speaking, the debate over GMO has long been more about emotion and economics than science. While all pesticides have the potential to harm consumers in high enough concentrations, this is separate from GMO. GMO is the increased expression of traits in an organism or the transfer of traits from another organism by genetic modification. These traits/genes already exist in our food supply. I don’t see how the transfer of genes from one food to another would result in increased incidents of cancer/tumors.

    So, until I can read the actual study, I remain unconvinced of any danger in consuming GMO foods.

  3. September 20, 2012 at 7:53 AM

    I’ve had numerous pet rats and most of them died from tumors – when life expectancy is longer, as it is in domestcated rats & humans, the likelihood of cancer becomes greater.

  4. Massachusetts
    September 20, 2012 at 9:14 AM

    I would be surprised if GMO corn caused such problems. Science should sort this out. It will be interesting to see where the chips fall.

    However, I due believe that people have the right to know what they are eating, particularly if they have expressed concern about a particular class of ingredients. So I am in favor of some sort of labeling program. That would probably mean almost everything would have some sort of GMO flag.

  5. September 20, 2012 at 9:36 AM

    It’s a tough call. No good answer. Labeling can create a false concern because people don’t understand what “genetically modified” even means. They just fear it without figuring it out.

    I can’t see any mechanism that would cause GM food to be harmful to people. (not clear about the environment and it’s certainly bad for some economics of agriculture) But as ALWAYS, there are benefits and costs.

    I’m looking into the rebuttals to this study this morning.

  6. LovleAnjel
    September 20, 2012 at 10:55 AM

    Despite having 200 rats in the study, they only analyzed 10 rats from each group.

  7. Jim Jones
    September 20, 2012 at 10:19 PM

    The bottom line is that consumers should know what they are consuming. Is that really a question.

Comments are closed.