Scientific Journal Retracts Anti-GMO Junk Science Study


Killer Tomatoes
Killer Tomatoes

A study last year by the French anti-GMO campaigner who sometimes masquerades as a scientist, Gilles-Eric Séralini, has been retracted by the journal in which it was published. Seralini claimed that rats that he fed a diet of GMO corn developed mammary tumors and liver disease. The study was widely hailed by anti-GMO activists and soundly denounced by actual scientists.

In my article, "The Top 5 Lies About Biotech Crops," I reported:

One widely publicized specious study (also cited by the IRT) was done by the French researcher Gilles-Eric Seralini and his colleagues. They reported that rats fed pesticide resistant corn died of mammary tumors and liver diseases. Seralini is the president of the scientific council of the Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering, which describes itself as an "independent non-profit organization of scientific counter-expertise to study GMOs, pesticides and impacts of pollutants on health and environment, and to develop non polluting alternatives." The Committee clearly knows in advance what its researchers will find with regard to the health risks of biotech crops. But when truly independent groups, such as the European Society of Toxicologic Pathology and theFrench Society of Toxicologic Pathology, reviewed Seralini's study, they found it essentially to be meretricious rubbish. Six French academies of science issued a statement declaring that the journal should never have published such a low-quality study and excoriating Seralini for orchestrating a media campaign in advance of publication. The European Food Safety Agency's review of the Seralini study "found to be inadequately designed, analysed and reported." Sadly, such junk science has real-world consequences, since Seralini's article was apparently cited when Kenya made the decision to ban the importation of foods made with biotech crops.

The journal Food and Chemical Toxicity has now retracted Seralini's article, noting:

Unequivocally, the Editor-in-Chief found no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data. However, there is a legitimate cause for concern regarding both the number of animals in each study group and the particular strain selected. The low number of animals had been identified as a cause for concern during the initial review process, but the peer-review decision ultimately weighed that the work still had merit despite this limitation. A more in-depth look at the raw data revealed that no definitive conclusions can be reached with this small sample size regarding the role of either NK603 or glyphosate in regards to overall mortality or tumor incidence. Given the known high incidence of tumors in the Sprague-Dawley rat, normal variability cannot be excluded as the cause of the higher mortality and incidence observed in the treated groups. 

For his "research" Seralini selected a type of lab rat that is well-known to develop spontaneous tumors. One of the numerous letters to the editor explaining the flaws in the study concluded:

Discussion is important in science, but this publication stirred vigorous criticism by several scientists around the world. It has risen up great attention by the media that had no chance of getting an external expert opinion due to unusual non-disclosure clauses. The initial unbalanced media coverage is causing damage to an important tool for global food security. It is also important to avoid unnecessary distress and pain of the animals (e.g. Directive 2010/63/EU), the experiment should not go beyond the point required to meet the scientific objectives. I urge you to take adequate measures to keep the high standard quality of publications that come to your journal. This paper as it is now, presents poor quality science and dubious ethics.

It's good that the journal has gotten around to retracting the study, but unfortunately it will become just another cause celebre among conspircy minded anti-biotech activists.