Last year French scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini made news when a paper by his team was published in Food and Chemical Toxicology. Data concerning long-term feeding of genetically modified Monsanto corn and the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup) in the Seralini study suggested the rats being studied developed cancerous tumors. Of course this news spread around the internet like wildfire among those who detest biotech crops. Finally they had a really high profile study published proving their point.
Criticism of Seralini Study
The scientific community widely criticized the study’s statistical methods. The number of rats used was questionable, and the data drawn from test and control groups seemed incomplete at best. Test groups of Harlan Sprague-Dawley rats used in the feeding study were given various amounts of NK603 corn over a two-year period. Test subjects were also given varying amounts of glyphosate in drinking water. Control rats received non-GM corn and regular drinking water. Rats fed GMO corn and glyphosate developed tumors during their two-year life span, and pictures of tumor riddled rats plagued the internet.
But what about the control rats? They developed tumors as well. Sprague-Dawley rats are known to develop tumors during their lifespan. In fact a majority of them are known to do so within two years. Further analysis of Seralini’s data shows rats fed NK603 corn and Roundup-laced water sometimes had less incidence of tumors than the control group. Shouldn’t that bit of information thrown up some red flags possibly before the study was originally published in Food and Chemical Toxicology? Flags were thrown for and by many scientists, and now the tables are turning as the editor of the journal, A. Wallace Hayes, stated this week he would retract the paper from the journal if Seralini did not withdraw it himself.
When I first heard news of Seralini’s study in 2012 I was skeptical as you might imagine. Livestock have been fed GM corn and soybeans for almost 20 years now. If it was so awful as to cause all the ailments claimed by those who seem to pander to anti-GMO sentiment I think it stands to reason that farmers would have backed off the stuff long ago. But that kind of logic doesn’t fit the narrative of GMO = Bad. The Seralini paper was, and likely still is, validation for those who were predisposed to interpret it as definitive proof that biotechnology should be outlawed.
Seralini Going Forward
Although I am glad to see this fear mongering study being pulled from publication I’m afraid the damage has already been done. And if you’re a GMO hater you can still easily feel like you’ve won. I’ve already seen the internet gearing up to portray the retraction as a result of great pressure applied to the journal by Big Ag and the politicians supposedly paid off by industry money. People who believe such narratives don’t have to change their minds when new information comes to light. Even if the old information was questionable to begin. All they need do is move the goal post. Kevin Folta agrees “we’ll see the wagons circle” while suggesting steps for Seralini to take since he is standing behind his team’s research.
Science is a process, and I’m happy the process is working.