In 2012, the interwebs exploded because of an article (pdf) published in Food and Chemical Toxicology by Gilles-Eric Séralini et al. that attempted to show that GMOs cause cancer in rats fed genetically modified corn which is resistant to the herbicide Roundup. They also found similar health problems in rats fed the herbicide alone (along with non-GM feed). The rodents experienced hormone imbalances, along with more and larger mammary tumors, earlier in life, than rats fed a non-GM diet. The authors claimed that the GM- or pesticide-fed rats also died earlier.
Séralini et al. stated that this is the first time GMO corn has been tested for toxicity throughout a rat’s lifespan even though this type of GM corn accounts for more than half of the US crop.
Séralini’s article could have been an important part of the discourse regarding the safety of GMOs – except for a few important problems. Scientists across the world criticized the study for its bad study design, bad statistics, and overhyping of the results.
I personally found the study lacking in basic toxicology methodology, like providing us with dose-response studies, that show us at what level of consumption of the GMO corn would have an effect (if there is one). Of course, Séralini used so few rats in his “study” that it would have been difficult if not possible to develop a dose response.
Séralini’s GMOs cause cancer study
Even when the study was initially announced, there were numerous issues. For example, Séralini attempted to force reporters to sign a non-disclosure agreement when the study was first being released, a move that was described as an “outrageous abuse of the embargo system.” We can only guess at to his reasoning for making this demand, but one of those guesses is that the data was so bad he wanted to mute criticism.
Eventually, even leading European regulatory ministries rejected the study. For example, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Parma, Italy, issued its initial assessment of Séralini’s paper, which slammed the Séralini’s conclusions:
But the article was published, so every anti-GMO activist would refer to it as their “proof” that GMO’s are dangerous. But that would be a bad move on their part, because on 28 November 2013, the Editor-in-Chief of the journal which published Séralini’s paper, Food and Chemical Toxicology, issued the following retraction statement:
The Editor-in-Chief, A. Wallace Hayes, did not state that Séralini attempted to defraud the public (or science), though his study design and misuse of data is troubling (and more so, that a respected journal published it and to only realize the low quality of data after a year of withering criticism).
This is in contrast to one of the more renowned scientific swindlers, Mr. Andy Wakefield whose fraudulent paper alleging a connection between MMR and autism which was retracted by the Lancet specifically because of that fraud. Though the difference between Wakefield and Séralini is somewhat like splitting hairs.
Bad science GMWatch gets involved
Evidently, the anti-GMO fringe became apoplectic with the decision to retract the terrible study. GMWatch, the center of the anti-science universe for GMO refusers, called Hayes’ decision “illicit, unscientific, and unethical.”
GMWatch used the Monsanto Shill Gambit by claiming that “Hayes’ decision to retract the paper follows FCT’s (Food and Chemical Toxicology) appointment of Richard E. Goodman, a former Monsanto scientist and an affiliate of the GMO industry-funded group, the International Life Sciences Institute, to the specially created post of associate editor for biotechnology at the journal, early this year.” Because real scientists who did real scientific research at Monsanto were infected with the immorality and anti-ethics virus. Obviously, GMWatch’s own ethics are for sale, because they impose that belief on others.
Most of us just saw the article for the bad science it was, unlike GMWatch who apparently doesn’t care about science, but just propaganda for their pseudoscience.
Goodman himself answered the criticism from GMWatch, the self-appointed arbiter of GMO ethics:
GMWatch concluded its screed against Hayes with “in a highly irregular process, Hayes now contradicts the outcome of the peer review and editorial process and decides to retract the paper over a year after it was published. His decision is not made on the basis of new data, but on a secret and non-transparent review by unnamed persons, who evidently do not feel able to stand behind their decision publicly or disclose any conflicts of interest they may have.” It is NOT an irregular process.
Sometimes the peer-review process doesn’t work as well as it should (and no one in real science thinks anything is perfect, including peer-review). Reals science makes errors, and it must be self-correcting, especially when the article being retracted was so poorly done. Sorry GMWatch, but your knowledge of science is so poor, you don’t understand this.
Once again, there is little evidence that GM crops pose any danger to human beings. And now that little evidence has fallen by one, even though most of us thought it was so poorly done that we would laugh hysterically if anyone brought it up in a discussion. At least with the retraction, we can just dismiss it without wasting words describing why it was so bad.
But more importantly, the scientific consensus is that GM crops are safe.
GMOs don’t cause cancer
- Science has been studying cancer for a long time, and it has come to a few conclusions. One of which is that there are precious few ways to prevent cancer, and avoiding GMOs is not one of them.
- Animal research only rarely provides us with proper evidence of human clinical conclusions. Around 90% of animal studies ever amount to anything clinically.
- Animal research is actually near the bottom of the hierarchy of good clinical research.
- And finally, Séralini’s research that concluded that GMOs cause cancer was poorly designed, overhyped, and ultimately retracted by the scientific journal that published it.
This study was a waste of time. Just like Wakefield.
Editor’s note – This article was originally published in November 2013. Obviously, it’s old news, and anyone who knows anything about GMOs already has heard that this study was retracted, and Séralini is kind of a pariah in science. However, as with most anti-science tropes, they never really die, and this Séralini study has reappeared on the internet. I will deal with this complex court decision in an upcoming article. Nevertheless, I’m republishing this article in case someone needs to deal with misinformation from GMO activists.
- Retraction–Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. Lancet. 2010 Feb 6;375(9713):445. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(10)60175-4. PubMed PMID: 20137807.
- Séralini GE, Clair E, Mesnage R, Gress S, Defarge N, Malatesta M, Hennequin D, de Vendômois JS. Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food Chem Toxicol. 2012 Nov;50(11):4221-31. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2012.08.005. Epub 2012 Sep 19. PubMed PMID: 22999595.