Commentary: Worst anti-biotech study ever

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It seems that every so often an otherwise reputable journal prints a report or a study that directly counters the scientific consensus, but gee—it just happens to dovetail perfectly with some anti-industry screed one (or more) of the researchers secretly harbors.

Usually, the report contains some kernels of truth, a few nuggets of wisdom and at least a semblance of the scientific method.

However, a new study titled, “Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize” published in the Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology, “does not follow universal standards for a scientific experiment,” according to a statement released by the American Society of Animal Science Board of Directors.

That’s putting it mildly.

Here’s what the controversy’s all about, as an excerpt from the actual study graphically depicts:

The health effects of a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize (from 11% in the diet), cultivated with or without Roundup, and Roundup alone (from 0.1 ppb in water), were studied 2 years in rats,” the authors wrote. “In females, all treated groups died 2 to 3 times more than controls, and more rapidly. This difference was visible in 3 male groups fed GMOs. All results were hormone- and sex-dependent, and the pathological profiles were comparable. Females developed large mammary tumors almost always more often than and before controls, the pituitary was the second most disabled organ; the sex hormonal balance was modified by GMO and Roundup treatments.”

The writing isn’t very elegant, but the conclusions are stark. If this research were credible, all of us who have been consuming genetically engineered corn, soy and other food ingredients for the last decade-plus would be in serious trouble.

Only one problem: The study is bunk.

In this study, the control group of rats was fed non-GM corn and Roundup-free water. Unfortunately, the control group had only 10 rats of each sex. Testing just 20 rats cannot generate statistically significant results.The researchers’ conclusions are thus “based on a poorly designed experiment and unreliable statistics,” according to the ASAS statement.

An expert in animal genomics and biotechnology was even harsher.o

“What’s wrong with this study? I can’t even count the ways,” said Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam, a Cooperative Extension Specialist at the University of California-Davis. “The authors refused to share their data with other scientists, they didn’t perform a statistical analysis of the data and the strain of rats they used is known to spontaneously develop tumors.

“Basically, the paper is garbage.”

Indeed, the researchers used the Sprague-Dawley line that is bred to be highly susceptible to the development of tumors. That particular strain has a more than 80% chance of growing tumors within two years under non-experimental conditions.

“You can’t draw any conclusions from that small of a population,” Van Eenennaam said. “To suggest that the tumors were the result of Roundup, the GMOs or an interaction between the two is ludicrous. It’s Fantasyland stuff. How was this study was even published in the first place?”

The Frankenfoods card

That’s a good question, and one without a good answer. There simply aren’t any data to suggest that the genetic engineering of crops poses any significant threat to human health. Even the staunchest critics of Frankenfoods can only invoke the precautionary principle to support their fevered opposition—that, and vague warnings that “we don’t know about the long-term effects” of consuming genetically engineered foods.

This study won’t add any heft to the activists’ portfolio, that’s for sure.

“I think someone who had taken a basic biology or statistics class could have rejected this paper,” said Dr. Bruce Chassy, Professor Emeritus in Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois.

Chassy noted there have been more than 200 studies comparing GM foodswith non-GM foods in at least 15 animal species, and almost every one shows no difference in animal health. He suggested that the researchers have a political agenda and noted that the primary author of the study is the leader of an anti-GM lobbying group called CRIIGEN (Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering).

If all that isn’t damning enough, Dr. Van Eenennaam raised one final point that identifies perhaps the most egregious departure from scientific protocol.

“What really concerned me were the photos of the rats with abnormally large tumors,” she said. “I realize that they were trying to prove a point, but you don’t make animals suffer to do it. At our lab, once a tumor exceeds 40 millimeters, the animal is sacrificed. We take animal welfare very seriously, and for these researchers to allow the [treated] rats to grow tumors as large as the ones they photographed is absolutely appalling.”

As are their methods, their conclusions and their betrayal of the most critical aspect of scientific inquiry: Its credibility.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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Jim    
USA  |  September, 27, 2012 at 10:11 AM

Granted the research appears to be flakey, but no more so than never conductingresearch on GMO's to begin with. Obviously the status quo still disparrage those who raise those "vague warnings" about not knowing the long-term effects of consuming genetically engineered foods." Since no long-term research has been conducted, there's reason to be concerned. Unfortunately "industry research dollars" distort vision, but of course that's alright with the "scientific community".

jmcv02    
manhattan, ks.  |  September, 28, 2012 at 01:58 PM

Jim- GMO's had to be researched before they were even approved by the USDA, for commerical release. So far none of the idiotic "frankenfood" theories have even come true but that will never be enough for the naysayers. Theres nothing wrong with having objections but when you try to prove them using flawed science its only natural to laugh them off. If these naysayers have such an issue why don't they fund a research project thats conducted properly? Oh, thats right they already have but they didn't get the results they wanted. Bury your head in the sand elsewhere, this site is too informative to waste on your comments.

Tommy    
South Africa  |  September, 30, 2012 at 12:43 PM

The sudy was done and based on the same amount of rats as the study that Monsanto did. Why is Monsanto's study acceptable when they use rats in groups of 10 ? Then Monsanto's study is also full of flaws.

Tommy    
South Africa  |  September, 30, 2012 at 12:49 PM

http://www.organiccouncil.ca/news/backlash-to-new-gmo-feed-study-a-barrel-of-red-herrings Guelph, Ontario- Backlash to New GMO Feed Study a Barrel of Red Herrings A ground-breaking new long-term study, published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, by French researchers into the effects of Monsanto’s GM herbicide tolerant corn has renewed calls for a full review of the approval system for GMOs. The study, the first to investigate the potential health impacts of GM corn over the lifetime of laboratory rats, and its authors have been attacked and dismissed by the biotech lobby. “We know the results of this study are challenging to the status quo,” says Jodi Koberinski, Executive Director of the Organic Council of Ontario. “What is disturbing is the immediate use of red herrings and outright misinformation in the industry response”. Thus, OCO set out to consult with academics and experts on the subject to see if the various critiques have merit. “While some issues with this study necessarily require examination, there is a barrel of red herrings being used to dismiss this study”, said Ms. Koberinski. A red herring is defined as an argument which distracts an audience by introducing an irrelevancy, or in this case, a fallacy. OCO invited Dr. Anne Clark to look at “red herrings” in the criticism. What Dr. Clark found was that many of the criticisms about the study design could equally be said of studies used in the biotech sector to request GM food approvals. An example Dr. Clark gives of a “red herring” argument came from Tom Saunders, Head of Diabetes & Nutritional Sciences Division at Kings College, London UK. Dr. Saunders was quoted saying, “This strain of rat is very prone to mammary tumors particularly when food intake is not restric

Chris    
Canada  |  October, 10, 2012 at 04:05 AM

Always follow the money and the truth will be revealed. Yes, there are a number of companies making money from GMO technologies (Monsanto bears the criticism for all of them). That is obvious, that is their business. However, there has also been hundreds of billions of dollars made as a result of GMO's from the media, the organic food companies, researchers, and especially the granola foundations owned by Soros and the like. They needed GMO's more than Monsanto ever did. They had run out of issues to squawk about, nothing was new, they needed a controversy, and GMO was ideal.


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