In a rare display of unified action among global science groups, six French science academies slammed a study by an anti-biotechnology activist claiming a link between genetically modified corn and tumors. The European Food Safety Authority and science groups in Germany, Australia, and New Zealand presented similar criticism of the agenda-driven study, known in scientific circles as a “push study.”
Gilles-Eric Seralini, a French anti-biotechnology activist, published a September study claiming Roundup-ready NK603 corn caused tumors in laboratory rats. Seralini then launched a media publicity blitz touting his study and asserting genetically improved crops are not safe for human consumption. Major news outlets around the world touted Seralini’s findings, inducing people to believe genetically improved crops are not safe.
Seralini’s study was funded by an alliance of anti-biotechnology groups and supermarket chains that have invested heavily in organic foods.
After reviewing Seralini’s procedures and results, the French national academies of science, medicine, pharmacy, agriculture, technology, and veterinary studies issued a joint statement blasting the study as unscientific scaremongering.
“Given the numerous gaps in methods and interpretation, the data presented in this article cannot challenge previous studies which have concluded that NK603 corn is harmless from the health point of view, as are, more generally, genetically modified plants that have been authorised for consumption by animals and humans," the academies reported.
The academies additionally described the Seralini study as a “scientific non-event” and “spread[ing] fear among the public that is not based on any firm conclusion.”
Specific Procedural Flaws
According to Seralini, three groups of rats were fed different diets. Some were given ordinary rat food, others were given a mix of ordinary rat food and NK603 corn, and others were given a mix of rat food and Roundup. Seralini reported the group that was fed direct doses of Roundup developed more tumors than the other groups.
Scientists noted the logical fallacy of asserting that spraying crop fields with Roundup equates to feeding rats and other animals large doses of Roundup directly in their diet. Moreover, the procedures themselves were biased and Seralini misrepresented the study results.
“Conventional statistical analysis … showed no significant difference between the groups … in contrary to the wording used by the authors of the article for the public,” the French academies observed.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) added more criticism of the Seralini study, pointing out Seralini chose a strain of rat particularly susceptible to developing tumors and Seralini failed to establish adequate control groups to verify the study’s results.
“EFSA concludes that the study as reported does not impact the ongoing reevaluation of glyphosate and does not see a need to reopen the existing safety evaluation of maize NK603,” the EFSA noted in a press statement.
Study Crossed the Line
Henry I. Miller, a physician and molecular biologist at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, says Seralini crossed the line from merely performing and reporting flawed experiments to committing gross scientific misconduct and scientific fraud.
“For his latest study, Seralini took the unprecedented step of pre-releasing the paper to select media outlets under an embargo on the condition that they sign a nondisclosure agreement which prevented the journalists from seeking scientific experts’ opinions on the article,” Miller reported.
“Seralini has demonstrated on more than one occasion that he is unreliable, a rogue scientist—to use the term loosely—and a charlatan," said Miller.
H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas, Texas, says there will always be charlatans publishing push studies to gain media recognition and further political agendas. In this particular case, said Burnett, Seralini substantially raised the bar of scientific misconduct.
“He tailored the data to meet his expectations,” said Burnett.
Gregory Conko, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says there were many problems in Seralini’s study, including the basic design of the experiment.
“The biggest problem was the strain of rat he used. It would have been reasonable to use a variety of rats in this study; however, the strain Seralini chose were known for their susceptibility to carcinogens and their predilection for developing tumors—a fact he did not disclose,” Conko observed.