A study that was widely publicized by the anti-GM movement has been retracted by the scientific journal in which it was published.
French scientist Gilles-Éric Séralini last year claimed that a diet of Monsanto's Roundup Ready genetically modified (GM) corn, which is grown by farmers in southern Manitoba and around the world, led to tumours, organ failure and cancer in rats. The paper said those outcomes were also found in rats exposed to small doses of Roundup herbicide in their diets.
The Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology issued a statement last week that it was retracting the study "after a thorough and time-consuming analysis of the published article and the data it reports, along with an investigation into the peer-review behind the article."
"The reaction from the broader scientific community after it was published was pretty immediate. The paper was criticized as being inadequately designed, analyzed and reported. The number of rats used in the experiment was way too low, and the control groups were not appropriately established," explains Dr. Cami Ryan, a professional research associate with the University of Saskatchewan. "When you're drawing such really broad sweeping statements and controversial inferences from that kind of data, that's problematic from a good science perspective."
She notes there were other red flags surrounding the study.
"This whole article came with a really unusual public relations campaign, which totally goes against any good science-based tenets," says Ryan. "When it was released in September last year, there was a press conference. Séralini released an anti-GMO book and a movie along with it. There are a lot of problems with that, because no self-respecting independent scientist ever does anything like that when they release their studies."
The journal also took issue with the breed of rat used for the study, as the Sprague-Dawley rat is known to be genetically pre-disposed to high incidence of tumours.
Séralini and his colleagues are standing by their claims and threatening to sue the journal for its retraction. Responding to the retraction statement, they accused the Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology of maintaining a double standard.
"A factual comparative analysis of the rat feeding trial by the Séralini’s group and the Monsanto trials clearly reveals that if the Séralini experiments are considered to be insufficient to demonstrate harm, logically, it must be the same for those carried out by Monsanto to prove safety," said their letter to the journal's editor.
Ryan believes Séralini will use the court case to put his study back in the public spotlight.
"He's going to create another PR campaign around this. That's what he does and what he's notorious for," she notes.
She says she hopes the retraction will result in the scientific community improving its peer-review process.
"I think that's the real story right now. Although the journal did come and retract, it probably was a study that should never have been published in the first place...because there seemed to be so much of a political agenda behind this science, and that's not how science works."