Points made by Dr E Ann Clark in a Canadian radio interview about the retraction of two papers suggesting potential harm from GM crops.
Dr Clark was formerly an Associate Professor in Plant Agriculture at the University of Guelph where her specific interests included the risk assessment of genetically modified crops.
Clark Comments for Calgary Today, 29 Nov 2013
1. The issue is the retraction of papers suggesting potential harm to rats from GM crops.
2. I am a crop physiologist by training, so the content and methodology of the retracted papers – dealing with mammalian physiology, histopathology, and blood chemistry - are out of my area of expertise. Thus, I will comment solely on the issue of retraction of two papers by the refereed journal Food and Chemical Toxicology. Both papers, one by Gilles-Eric Seralini and colleagues in France and a second by Mezzomo and colleagues in Brazil, dealt with GM corn – the first with RR corn and Roundup itself, and the second with several types of Bt [toxin].
3. Both papers were submitted and went through the conventional process of peer review before being accepted and published in 2012. The Seralini paper was reviewed by 5 scientists, unlike the more typical 2 or 3 scientific reviewers.
4. Early in 2013 – after the two papers had been accepted and published - a wholly new position - deputy editor in biotechnology - was created at the FCT journal and filled by an allergy specialist from the University of Nebraska - Richard E. Goodman. As it happened, this specialist had worked for Monsanto in Regulatory Sciences from 1997 until July, 2004.
5. Within months of Dr. Goodman’s arrival at FCT, two papers which identified possible concerns with GM corn were retracted. Reasons for retraction are unknown for the Brazilian paper – which has since been published in another journal.
6. The reason given for retraction of the Seralini paper was just unprecedented – “....the results presented (while not incorrect) are inconclusive, and therefore do not reach the threshold of publication for FCT.” The Editor-in-Chief further stated that he had found
“... no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data”
but cited concerns with the number of animals per group and the particular breed of rat used in the study.
7. Now, what does it take to retract an article already published in the scientific literature? According to the Committee on Publication Ethics, of which FCT is a member, the only valid reasons for retraction are (direct quote):
•Clear evidence that the findings are unreliable due to misconduct (eg data fabrication) or honest error
•Plagiarism or redundant publication
8. None of these faults were found in the Seralini paper, leading to questions about why the paper was retracted. It is simply unheard of to retract an accepted, peer reviewed, published paper just because results are not conclusive. Most scientific papers are not conclusive, but rather, report findings that are then in the public domaine for other scientists to read, challenge, repeat, and build on. It is even more dumbfounding that the paper would be retracted more than a year after it was published.
9. The issue of rat breed and sample size are red herring arguments, which Seralini and colleagues responded to both in their 2012 paper, and in a subsequent 2013 response paper. Indeed, Seralini had modelled their study on a Monsanto study (Hammond et al. 2004) which was also published in FCT – same corn, same breed of rats, and same sample size. Why no complaints about that one?
10. Still unanswered is the real reason for why not one but two papers identifying potential harm from GM crops were retracted, within months of the arrival of a former Monsanto employee, to an editorial position newly crafted at FCT.
Puts me in mind of George Orwell’s lead character in 1984 – Winston Smith – whose job was to rewrite history and air brush out people/events whenever they became unsavoury in the eyes of the power elite. What confidence can people have in science – and specifically, in the safety of GM foods - when research findings inconsistent with corporate interests can just be airbrushed out?