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Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics: GM Corn, Roundup, and Tumors

By   /  January 13, 2014  /  7 Comments

This is the second in a series looking at the science and controversy surrounding a study that found an increase in liver and kidney disease and tumors in rats fed GM Corn and Roundup-laced water. Our purpose here isn’t to discuss the use or banning of Genetically Modified Organisms, but rather to focus on understanding the scientific process so we can be more informed consumers of information.

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That’s Gilles-Eric Séralini on the left. Photo from gmoseralini.org which is not owned or ope
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  • Published: 8 years ago on January 13, 2014
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  • Last Modified: November 8, 2020 @ 6:55 pm
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About the author

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

7 Comments

  1. Jonathan Dunwell says:

    HI Kathy,

    I noticed that Seralini did a toxicity study on these rats and reported kidney and liver toxicity.

    However, the information you give to provide an opposite point of view is that roundup and GM may not cause tumours.

    Nobody really has argued with Seralini’s conclusion about the toxic effects of roundup and instead focus on calling the trial a bad cancer study.

    Seralini’s critics are very vocal about GM+Roundup not causing tumours, and, you yourself even cite two studies showing roundup toxicity and then try to balance this with a study showing that it does not increase the incidence of tumours.

    Is this how you are meant to review scientific studies?

    Let me stress this to you again (and anyone who reads this):

    Seralini’s study was NOT a cancer study.
    It was a TOXICITY study.

    (which reported chronic kidney and liver toxicity)

    • Kathy Voth says:

      Yes, Jonathan, I agree with you. I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. Let me try again.

      Séralini’s study was on toxicity, and his results show some toxicity to livers and kidneys, as do other studies of Roundup and glyphosate. I included links to a couple of studies showing that. Séralini says he reported the tumor findings because they were surprising and that he agrees that a cancer study should involve more individuals per group. So, it’s up to whoever is next to do the cancer study with more rats per group so that we can know more.

      There are some studies out there showing that incidents of cancer are not associated with GMOs per se, and I also shared a link to one that showed that cancers also did not increase for applicators who worked with Roundup and glyphosate. So, what I’m reading right now is that liver and kidney disease can be linked to Roundup, but maybe not tumors. So more research is required.

      I’m trying my best not to take a side, but to simply explain what I’ve found after a lot of reading. And also, more reading is required. 🙂

  2. Chip Hines says:

    Kathy,
    I have to agree with Bill Beaman.

    This article is a plus for On Pasture. When we get into situations like this we are dealing with human nature and all its failings. We all have developed basic beliefs and it is easy to cling to these. You have presented this in a understandable manner that is opening my mind to the, “how”, that we must understand.

    I did not realize that statisticians actually designed the protocol. I had always thought it was something derived by scientists.

    Looking forward to the next segment.
    Chip

  3. Kirk Cunningham says:

    Good follow-up article! The entire Seralini affair sends me one message: why scientific studies designed to evaluate the safety of chemical compounds which will be applied to hundreds of millions of acres and earn their makers billions of dollars are so meager and so subject to accusations of bias. A decision this important should be done on a cohort of animals so large that statistics should be unchallengeable, and the studies should be performed only by third parties chosen by the permitting agency, but with money
    provided by the applicant. If such studies take 2-3 years, so what? What may be inconvenient for the applicant is much less significant than having reliable data on environmental fate, transport and toxicity that can be used to guide product permitting so as to product the public and the environment.

    Of course, with GMOs, the biggest problem is likely to be not human toxicity but rather adverse effects on the property rights, income and market access of non-GMO growers in the vicinity

  4. Paul Nehring says:

    Kathy,
    I appreciate your explanation of the scientific methods involved and what some of issues were with this particular study by Seralini and his team.

    While the study is inconclusive, it does raise questions and concerns, especially since it is the only long-term study done with GMOs. Just because it’s inconclusive does not mean that it is worth publishing. Many published studies are inconclusive, but are published because they raise questions and concerns needing further study.

    What is discouraging is that the study was retracted from the Journal, despite the fact that the editors could not find anything wrong with the data. The journal specifically noted that there had been no fraud, no misinterpretation of results, and no manipulation of data, which are the normal reasons for retracting a published study.

    Two researchers recently criticized, in Bioethics, the retraction as being politically motivated, and not based on science. The journal recently hired a former Monsanto employee to serve on the editorial team.

    http://www.thehastingscenter.org/Bioethicsforum/Post.aspx?id=6684&blogid=140&utm_source=constantcontact&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=bioethicsforum20140110

    • Kathy Voth says:

      Hi Paul,

      I did try to look at the politics of this particular situation and decided that there was no way I could figure out who was right and who was wrong. Yes, a former Monsanto employee was hired by the Journal. Richard Goodman worked as a researcher at Monsanto from 1997 to 2004, and since then has been an academic at the University of Nebraska where he does research to evaluate the allergenicity of GM crops and to improve their safety. In his response to allegations that Monsanto pressured the journal to hire him as an Associate Editor to handle the review process of articles related to biotechnology he says that he was unaware of any pressure at all. The journal said they did not have enough reviewers and asked him to fill this role. He reluctantly agreed. So, is he forever tainted by his time at Monsanto? Who am I to say?

      I don’t feel qualified to sit in judgement of Goodman’s qualifications any more than those of Séralini and his team. I think they are likely all very reputable, sincere scientists who are doing their best. That’s why I decided that the only thing to do was look at the science and how it stacks up against accepted protocols. It seems that it meets some and misses others, and yes, it raises questions about the safety of Roundup, as have other studies. The paper meets the requirements of a study of toxicology and some effects were found that are in keeping with other research done on the subject. It doesn’t meet the requirements of a cancer study, and the statistics, when done by other scientists, show that the probability of the tumors being a result of the GM corn is very low.

      That the article was retracted concerns me because it does bring up the specter of politics so strongly, and everywhere I looked the discussion devolves into reputation bashing on both sides. That’s not helpful to trust in science in general. But untangling that ball is beyond me. All I can say at this point is “more research is required.”

  5. Bill Beaman says:

    Your attempt at a fair and balanced analysis of “How Science Works” gives credibility to your online publication. thanks, Bill

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