November 2012 City Gardening
Monsanto’s Genetically Modified Corn Deadly?
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Arthur C. Clarke once remarked perhaps a trifle unfairly that the French produce the world’s very best second-rate scientists. However, in light of recently questioned research from a Gallic university, he might have an occasional point.
Gilles-Eric Séralini, a molecular biologist at the University of Caen in France, published research in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology that purports to show that consumption by rats of a genetically modified (GM) corn (maize) and of the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) greatly elevated rates of cancer and other illnesses, and caused premature deaths. The corn, Monsanto’s NK603, had already been approved for animal and human consumption. It, too, had been tested on rats.
Séralini also heads the scientific board at Paris-based Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN), a non-government organization that claims to offer “scientific counter-expertise to study GMOs, pesticides and impacts of pollutants on health and environment, and to develop non-polluting alternatives.” Séralini is also author of the recently published book Tous Cobayes (All of Us Guinea-pigs Now) that recounts the US$4.1-million research project. A movie and a television documentary also made their appearance from the same doubtlessly unbiased source, apparently in cooperation, as was the research, with CRIIGEN.
The usual practice in the scientific community is to release papers to the media prior to publication, allowing journalists time to interview other scientists to comment on the research. Despite this almost universal practice, Séralini demanded reporters wishing prior examination of his paper to sign a confidentiality agreement that they would not contact experts elsewhere for their input until after the embargo had expired. Even Europeans, never exactly overly enthused with genetically modified crops, smelt a rat in this debatable demand.
In fact, the European Commission was so alarmed as to instruct the independent European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) in Parma, Italy, to assess Professor Séralini’s research. The EFSA itself was recently audited to ensure it is indeed independent and not under industry influence
EFSA has examined previous research on GM corn by Séralini. They concluded, “His conclusions were not followed on the basis of sound scientific elements,” as was reported elsewhere.
Scientists elsewhere have been scathing of his latest research. Indeed there have been demands that the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology withdraw the paper, the ultimate in scientific derision. Experts around the world have cited “serious flaws” in the published work.
Dr. Mark Vickers, a senior research fellow at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, told The New Zealand Herald he was surprised the paper was published without key data gauging fluid intakes and body growth. He also noted, as have others, that the strain of rat used in the trial was prone to developing tumours with advancing age anyway.
VIB, the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology in Belgium also disparaged Séralini’s research, saying, “The conclusions drawn by Séralini could not be derived from the publication. The data will have to be subjected to a through analysis.” Data, incidentally, that Séralini refuses to release. VIB also said: “Séralini has published similar accounts before, but not one of them has withstood scientific scrutiny. That is because he draws conclusions that cannot be derived from the data”
There has been more, far more, from around the world. But as the highly respected journal Nature editorialized, the essence of scientific studies is that they can be replicated – or refuted.
There is not a little that could and in the past month alone has been questioned about GM crops. But strangely, the naysayers of the greatest genetic modification field experiment ever conducted continue to ignore the obvious health safety results. More than two decades of exposure to GM corn and soybean products to around 300 million North Americans have failed to cause an epidemic of ill health.