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?