GM corn study reignites controversy

Scientists angered by republication of study with serious flaws.
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01.Original study's flaws not addressed

Boy eating corn looks worried

A controversial study on genetically modified (GM) corn originally published in the respected journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology, was republished in open-access journal, Environmental Sciences Europe yesterday drawing an angry response from the scientific community.

In 2012, the study claiming that Roundup-tolerant genetically modified (GM) corn caused cancer in rats was published in  Food and Chemical Toxicology. The paper proved very controversial and the design, methodology and statistical analyses employed attracted a great deal of criticism from the scientific community. The paper was eventually retracted by the journal.

The same group is now republishing the study in a different journal, the open-access Environmental Sciences Europe. However, the major flaws in the original study haven’t been addressed, leading to a flood of criticism from scientists worldwide.

Statistics professor, David Spiegelhalter from the University of Cambridge, said, "The article still does not appear to have had proper statistical refereeing, and the methods and reporting are obscure.”

In terms of food safety concerns, former Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) official, Professor Andrew Bartholomaeus, considers the paper irrelevant, and “little more than a yawn”:

“From a toxicological or food safety perspective, the conclusions of FSANZ and international food regulatory agencies and peak scientific bodies [who reviewed the findings of the original paper] suggest that the paper has insufficient scientific merit even to be considered controversial or provocative, and it will likely be essentially irrelevant to the mainstream scientific community.”

Others caution that the methodological failings of this one study don’t prove that there’s no case against GM foods – only that better evidence is required to make this charge.

Genetics expert, Associate Professor Peter Dearden, from the University of Otago, points out, “The paper is being republished because the authors feel it was unfairly retracted from Food and Chemical Toxicology. I think that the problem here is the controversial nature of the original paper. The paper was, in my mind, inconclusive, but pointed a direction in which future research could go.”

Spiegelhalter concurs. “The study needs replicating by a truly independent laboratory using appropriate sample sizes. I agree with the authors that this whole area would benefit from greater transparency of data and improved experimental and statistical methods."

CHOICE's position is that foods with GM ingredients should be labelled in order to help consumers make informed decisions about what they eat. The full impact of GM technologies on health and the environment is not yet known and we believe that a precautionary approach requires that consumers have the capacity to make informed choices.


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