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Industry’s bullying finally worked: Séralini study on GM maize and Roundup retracted

At a press conference in the European Parliament on 28 November, Professor Gilles-Eric Séralini and Corinne Lepage MEP strongly denounced the decision of the scientific journal Food and Chemical Toxicology to de-publish his study on the health impacts of  Monsanto's GM maize NK603 - made tolerant to herbicide Roundup - and of Roundup itself. The study was published over a year ago.

Mr Séralini explained how the journal left him the choice of withdrawing the study himself, which he refused,or they would retract the article next week. The CRIIGEN team, Séralini's institute, has engaged US lawyers to challenge this decision. The journal, stressing in its letter to Mr Séralini that there was no speak of fraud or unethical research.

The decision was based on the “inconclusive” nature of the findings, due to the relatively low number of rats used, and the choice of rat strain. This was acknowledged during the peer review process and by Séralini himself, but back then the peer reviewers had "weighed that the work still had merit despite this limitation" and Séralini and his team of scientists have since then responded to this criticism.

The journal says that this new decision to retract the study was taken by "a more in-depth look at the raw data" transmitted to it by Séralini. However, such grounds are not enough to cause a study's retraction and that the journal is not respecting the guidelines of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), of which it is a member. None of the COPE criteria for potential retraction of an article from a scientific journal, has been met.

This decision is likely to be very controversial in the scientific community because the journal has been under strong pressure from the biotechnology industry, with orchestrated media campaigns and numerous letters to the journal's editor demanding the study's retraction.

The fundamental political problem underlying all this is indeed that this study is at its core a replication of a 2004 Monsanto study used to obtain the regulatory authorisation of the NK603 round-up tolerant maize: acknowledging that the Séralini study had any merit would therefore mean acknowledging that the NK603 maize's authorisation was taken on too weak grounds. EFSA (European Food Safety Agency) itself applied double standards when issuing a radically one-sided critique of the Séralini et al study. CRIIGEN has announced they would sue the journal if they did not retract the Monsanto study too. 

The journal seems to have bown to the heavy influence of industry to at last bury this rare study on the long term health risks of GMOs and pesticides. Only a few months ago, a former Monsanto researcher, Richard Goodman, entered the editorial board of Food and Chemical Toxicology. Several other editorial board members have ties with biotech company Pioneer and lobbygroup ILSI.

MEP Corinne Lepage, as well as Corporate Europe Observatory, at the press conference emphasised the clear attack from the biotech industry lobby on food safety standards, and the role played lobby groups such as ILSI. Also, the role of the chief scientific adviser to the President of the European Commission, Anne Glover, was called into question. Glover not only dismissed Séralini's study in very sweeping terms, echoing all of most industry's arguments, but has also become known for repeating industry lines that “GM crops are key to feed the world” and that “GM food safety has been proven beyond doubt”. These statements are far away from the "independent expert advice on any aspect of science, technology and innovation" her mandate at the European Commission stipulates. Lepage called for the resignation of Anne Glover.  

Summing it up, we have the EU refusing to properly assess products like GMOs and pesticides, the food safety agencies being riddled with conflicts of interest, an EU-US free trade agreement potentially watering down food safety standards even further, and the scientific community bowing for industry pressure to ban a unique long-term study. Is then not the only solution left for citizens to reclaim power over what they eat by setting up or supporting local, sustainable farming projects? 

Primary issue: 
Mr Séralini explained how the journal left him the choice of withdrawing the study himself, which he refused,or they would retract the article next week. The CRIIGEN team, Séralini's institute, has engaged US lawyers to challenge this decision. The journal, stressing in its letter to Mr Séralini that there was no speak of fraud or unethical research.The decision was based on the “inconclusive” nature of the findings, due to the relatively low number of rats used, and the choice of rat strain. This was acknowledged during the peer review process and by Séralini himself, but back then the peer reviewers had "weighed that the work still had merit despite this limitation" and Séralini and his team of scientists have since then responded to this criticism.The journal says that this new decision to retract the study was taken by "a more in-depth look at the raw data" transmitted to it by Séralini. However, such grounds are not enough to cause a study's retraction and that the journal is not respecting the guidelines of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), of which it is a member. None of the COPE criteria for potential retraction of an article from a scientific journal, has been met.This decision is likely to be very controversial in the scientific community because the journal has been under strong pressure from the biotechnology industry, with orchestrated media campaigns and numerous letters to the journal's editor demanding the study's retraction.The fundamental political problem underlying all this is indeed that this study is at its core a replication of a 2004 Monsanto study used to obtain the regulatory authorisation of the NK603 round-up tolerant maize: acknowledging that the Séralini study had any merit would therefore mean acknowledging that the NK603 maize's authorisation was taken on too weak grounds. EFSA (European Food Safety Agency) itself applied double standards when issuing a radically one-sided critique of the Séralini et al study. CRIIGEN has announced they would sue the journal if they did not retract the Monsanto study too. The journal seems to have bown to the heavy influence of industry to at last bury this rare study on the long term health risks of GMOs and pesticides. Only a few months ago, a former Monsanto researcher, Richard Goodman, entered the editorial board of Food and Chemical Toxicology. Several other editorial board members have ties with biotech company Pioneer and lobbygroup ILSI.MEP Corinne Lepage, as well as Corporate Europe Observatory, at the press conference emphasised the clear attack from the biotech industry lobby on food safety standards, and the role played lobby groups such as ILSI. Also, the role of the chief scientific adviser to the President of the European Commission, Anne Glover, was called into question. Glover not only dismissed Séralini's study in very sweeping terms, echoing all of most industry's arguments, but has also become known for repeating industry lines that “GM crops are key to feed the world” and that “GM food safety has been proven beyond doubt”. These statements are far away from the "independent expert advice on any aspect of science, technology and innovation" her mandate at the European Commission stipulates. Lepage called for the resignation of Anne Glover.  Summing it up, we have the EU refusing to properly assess products like GMOs and pesticides, the food safety agencies being riddled with conflicts of interest, an EU-US free trade agreement potentially watering down food safety standards even further, and the scientific community bowing for industry pressure to ban a unique long-term study. Is then not the only solution left for citizens to reclaim power over what they eat by setting up or supporting local, sustainable farming projects? 
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Comments

Submitted by JAMES EVERTS (not verified) on

When reading Séralini's abstract, last year, I was impressed! When subsequently reading the whole study, I started doubting. But I must be wrong, if FCT accepted this? Then it became clear that I was not alone. The study gives, at best, reason to do conclusive research on the relation between the consumption of RR corn and cancer. Has nothing tot do with Big Ag or EFSA being manned by industry cronies. Just poor science.

Submitted by Paulo Andrade (not verified) on

From the very beginning the paper was clearly bad. The retraction came as non surprise. The Editor´s words, however, were poor and misleading: Séralini´s results were tailored from the choice of the rat strian to the use (ou lack of use) of inapropriate statistical tests.

Submitted by Nina Holland on

Prof Seralini copied the methodology used by Monsanto, therefore he chose the same strain of rat as Monsanto. If Séralini's study is 'clearly bad' as you say, should the Monsanto study used for the approval of NK603 maize not also be thrown into the rubbish bin? Please let me quote from ENSSER's reaction to the retraction:

"Most notably, Séralini and his co-authors did not draw any definitive conclusions in the paper in the first place; they simply reported their observations and phrased their conclusions carefully, cognizant of their uncertainties. This is because the paper is a chronic toxicity study and not a full-scale carcinogenicity study, which would require a higher number of rats. The authors did not intend to look specifically for tumours, but still found increased tumour rates. Secondly, both of Hayes's arguments (the number of rats and their tumour susceptibility) were considered by the peer reviewers of the journal, who decided they formed no objection to publication. Thirdly, these two arguments have been discussed at length in the journal following the publication of the paper and have been refuted by the authors of the paper and other experts. Higher numbers of animals are only required in this type of safety studies to avoid missing toxic effects (a 'false negative' result), but the study found pronounced toxic effects and a first indication of possible carcinogenic effects. The Sprague-Dawley strain of rat which was used, is the commonly used standard for this type of research. For these reasons, the statistical significance of the biochemical data was endorsed by statistics experts." See www.ensser.org

Submitted by jay (not verified) on

Remove the financial influence on the science and the science speaks for itself. In the end it ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS in our current system comes down to monetary gain regardless of the repercussions it may have on us all

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The official EU assessment of glyphosate was based on unpublished studies owned by industry. Seven months later, the pesticide industry still fights disclosure and, so far, successfully. We obtained a copy of their arguments.

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Mark Lynas is a well known example of this in the UK, with an (in)famous public apology for his past role in the anti-GM movement that drew a lot of media attention. Lynas' move has been copied by others, like blogger Stijn Bruers in Belgium. This framing of the GMO debate has proven quite attractive to the media, even though it is not always clear why specifically these people are seen to have the credentials to merit this attention.

There are many fundamental flaws in the argumentation they are putting forward. Claire Robinson of GMWatch, at the request of Corporate Europe Observatory, has written a rebuttal of many of the claims made by these newly converted GMO proponents. For practical reasons, this rebuttal follows the argumentation and claims made in an article by Bruers on his blog about GMOs .

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