The science of GMO dangers has been seriously overblown by activists that really have no science behind their beliefs. The safety of GMOs has really reached the point that almost all of the scientific evidence is firmly on the side of the safety of GMO crops and, by extension, foods. Beyond that, the scientific consensus of respected scientific organizations across the world have come to the conclusion that the body of evidence supports the safety of GMO foods. And that GMO crops, which have been around for 10,000 years, are necessary to feed the people of this planet.
Nevertheless, the activists who continue to push the GMO dangers trope continue with their bad science. A few years ago, an article by Gilles-Eric Séralini was published which trumpeted the belief that GMOs cause cancer. That article was widely ridiculed and criticized by scientists across the world. Eventually, because of bad study design, terrible statistics, and harsh criticism of the conclusions, the journal that published the article retracted it.
It’s clear, at least to me, that when a side of a sociopolitical debate lacks scientific evidence, such as the anti-GMO side, they grab at anything, including Séralini’s retracted study, in an attempt to cherry-pick themselves into scientific legitimacy. And it’s happened again.
GMO dangers article
A few years ago, a nutrition journal, Food and Nutrition Science, published an article that seemed to establish some evidence about the potential dangers of consuming food containing GMOs. The paper, by Federico Infascelli and other colleagues, an animal nutrition researcher at the University of Naples in Italy, attempted to show that GMO soybeans consumed by female goats could pass modified genes into the blood and organs of baby goats.
Setting aside the implausibility of such a scenario, there were other problems with the research. The journal retracted the article by stating that some key data was taken from another article:
The article has been retracted due to the investigation of complaints received against it. The data of figure 1(b) came from the previous published paper by Tudisco R, Mastellone V, Cutrignelli MI, Lombardi P, Bovera F, Mirabella N, Piccolo G, Calabrò S, Avallone L, Infascelli F. Fate of transgenic DNA and evaluation of metabolic effects in goats fed genetically modified soybean and in their offsprings (see Note 1). The scientific community takes a very strong view on this matter and we treat all unethical behavior such as plagiarism seriously.
There’s a lot of irony here. Food and Nutrition Science’s publisher, “Scientific Research Publishing” is a predatory publisher. What is a predatory publisher? These journals will publish nearly any article, as long as you pay their predatory publishing fees. This journal is so bad that it’s not actually indexed by the NIH and included in PubMed searches.
Many poorly designed anti-vaccine and anti-GMO studies are published in these awful journals.
My irony meter exploded to note that a predatory journal actually had the fortitude to retract one of their articles. Infascelli’s article was so bad that even a predatory journal had to back away because it sullies their reputation.
I can’t stop laughing. Sorry.
And there’s more
According to an article in Retraction Watch, there’s a lot more. They translated an article in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, which claims that “an investigation suggests that Infascelli has manipulated images to suggest GMOs are harmful. He could face fines and be suspended from the university.”
Retraction Watch states that La Repubblica “also reports that a committee appointed by the rector of the university, Gaetano Manfredi, found errors in Infascelli’s data that suggested he had manipulated the results to show GMOs were harmful.”
Here we go again. Someone has a preordained conclusion based on their biases and beliefs, and then does whatever they can to provide evidence to support that bias. Maybe Infascelli wasn’t intentionally defrauding anyone, he just wanted the data to fit. Either way, that’s not science. The evidence should point to the conclusion, not establish a conclusion, then go find evidence.
Nevertheless, here we are again. Another potentially fraudulent study supporting nonsense. The problem is, like the Séralini study, Infascelli’s study is going to remain in the tropes and memes of the anti-GMO activists.
The depth of Infascelli’s fraud has deepened. Enrico Bucci, who works at BioDigital Valley, a firm that specializes in analyzing scientific literature, has issued a report examining eight of Infascelli’s papers, including his Ph.D. thesis. The report places all of his work into question.
Here are some of their findings:
- Deletion of data via digital manipulation and software
- Cropped figures and charts that eliminate contradictory data
- Splicing of data from unrelated studies
- Fabricating data
- Creating figures by moving data between lanes in the images
- Duplication of lanes
- Deletion of bands
I hate to pile on, but the veracity of anything Infascelli has written is genuinely suspect. For example, Layla Katiraee, Ph.D., a molecular geneticist, wrote in Biofortified that Infascelli’s research contained flawed materials, methods, and analysis. For example, he failed to specify the source of the animal feed, but, more importantly, failed to report a nutritional analysis of the feed to determine if or how much GMO soy was in the feed. In other words, we’re not sure what the goats were fed.
Dr. Katiraee eloquently summarizes Infascelli’s paper:
Even if this particular paper had not been retracted, even if the authors had not been accused of fraud, the research was not well-designed and its findings were not solid. Even if it had been conducted ethically, it still should not have been published, let alone touted as evidence of GMO harm because it’s not a good paper. It should not have passed peer review, and it’s possible that it never did, leading the authors to publish in a predatory journal. Yet the paper, and all other papers from this group, have been used in campaigns to warn us of the dangers of GMOs.
I think there’s more than sufficient evidence to place Infascelli’s research in the same bucket as Séralini’s – bad science that does not meet any standard of quality.
But there is a problem. Like Wakefield’s fraudulent research, Infascelli’s work becomes the de facto “truth.” And those of us on the science side will continue to be forced to engage in fake debates about GMOs, just to refute the bad data.
This paper involves in data fabrication so it does not meet the standard for publication. This article has been retracted to straighten the academic record. In making this decision the Editorial Board follows COPE’s Retraction Guidelines. Aim is to promote the circulation of scientific research by offering an ideal research publication platform with due consideration of internationally accepted standards on publication ethics.
The Editorial Board would like to extend its sincere apologies for any inconvenience this retraction may have caused.
Editor guiding this retraction: Professor Alessandra Bordoni (EiC of FNS)
According to Retraction Watch, “the statement includes a checklist noting the author engaged in academic misconduct, the results are ‘overall invalid,’ and the probe was initiated by the editor with “hints” from the publisher and a reader.” In other words, the journal is essentially accusing Infascelli of fraud.
- I cleaned up the citation, which was confusing.
- This article was originally published in January 2016. It is being updated with more current information about the retraction of this article
- Mastellone V, Tudisco R, Monastra G, Pero ME, Calabrò S, Lombardi P, Grossi M, Cutrignelli MI, Avallone L, Infascelli F. Gamma-Glutamyl Transferase Activity in Kids Born from Goats Fed Genetically Modified Soybean. Food Nutrition Sci. 2013 June; 4 (6A): 50-54. doi: 10.4236/fns.2013.46A006.
- 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.
- Tudisco R, Mastellone V, Cutrignelli MI, Lombardi P, Bovera F, Mirabella N, Piccolo G, Calabrò S, Avallone L, Infascelli F. Fate of transgenic DNA and evaluation of metabolic effects in goats fed genetically modified soybean and in their offsprings. Animal. 2010 Oct;4(10):1662-71. doi: 10.1017/S1751731110000728. PubMed PMID: 22445119.