Science and Law
6th December 2013

Science Prevails in Controversy Surrounding Séralini’s GMO Study

Elsevier’s recent decision to retract Gilles Eric Séralini’s controversial article indicating genetically modified corn causes cancer in rats illustrates the vulnerability of junk science.

Science Prevails in Controversy Surrounding Séralini’s GMO Study

Elsevier’s recent decision to retract Gilles Eric Séralini’s controversial article indicating genetically modified corn causes cancer in rats illustrates the vulnerability of junk science.

Séralini’s article, “Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize,” appeared in the November 2012 issue of Elsevier’s journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT). In the paper, Séralini linked a genetically modified corn to a high incidence of cancer in rats. He reported that rats fed a diet containing NK603 – a corn seed genetically engineered to withstand the herbicide glyphosate or Roundup – died earlier than rats that consumed a standard diet. Overall, according to the authors, up to 50 percent of males and 70 percent of females died prematurely, versus 30 percent (three in total) and 20 percent (two in total), respectively, in the control group.

After FCT published the paper, members of the scientific community attacked its validity. For example, the Science Media Centre posted a page of criticisms, including the study’s poor design, small sample size, and use of tumor-prone rats. In addition, the journal Transgenic Review published an article by a group of scientists who concluded, “The study appeared to sweep aside all known benchmarks of scientific good practice and, more importantly, to ignore the minimal standards of scientific and ethical conduct in particular concerning the humane treatment of experimental animals.” The study was also refuted by prominent international science organizations, including the European Food Safety Authority.

Elsevier eventually succumbed to the pressure and retracted the article, stating in a press release:

“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.”

Séralini responded by threatening to file a lawsuit. He said a statement, “Were FCT to persist in its decision to retract our study, CRIIGEN [Séralini’s institute] would attack with lawyers, including in the United States, to require financial compensation for the huge damage to our group.”

Despite Séralini aggressive stance, junk science rarely holds up in court when scrutinized by attorneys armed with knowledge of valid scientific methodologies.

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