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Peregrine flight

Friday, October 26, 2012

Monsanto Redux


I wrote a rather rushed and sloppy post about Monsanto before I left for Spain. I think I need to fill in a few dots now in order to get a bit of inner peace. My original post was about the Seralini study that reported that Monsanto GMO corn led to a higher incidence of a variety of tumors.

My second post talked about the nasty reaction to the study and the Monsanto/Blackwater connection.  I think that I need to expound a little on that. The excellent environmental blog, Red Green and Blue, has done a great job of weighing in and keeping up with the issue. Check out their link here. Here is a snippet from Jeremy Bloom:
This is the longest study ever performed – Monsanto’s studies nearly always ended at 90 days, so they never addressed any long-term health effects.By showing an increase in tumors and shortening of lifespan, it makes pretty clear that Monsanto’s longstanding claim – that GMO food is just as safe as conventional, and Roundup is harmless - needs some serious looking-into.This blows a hole in Monsanto’s decades-long practice of blocking publication of negative evidence, and then using the absence of evidence as evidence that everything was just fine with GMOs and Roundup. (See: Monsanto blocks research on GMO safety).Most of the arguments being used to invalidate the study make good soundbites for public relations – but fall apart when compared to, you know, actual science. Which implies they’re actually part of a PR campaign to discredit, not an actual scientific debate of the merits. (See: Yes, scientists are attacking the latest Monsanto study – but not because of the science.
Monsanto and their proxies  have attacked the studies for various reasons, the type of rats, the number of rats, the length of the study, all which curiously mirror Monsanto's own studies. An interesting story at Truth Out on the back and forth in Europe over the study, Inside the Monsanto Information War.

Slate Magazine ran a pretty nasty and snarky article by Keith Kloor that casts those that disagree with Monsanto and GMO's as the "climate deniers" of the left. The European Food Safety Authority believes that the study was inadequate and wants more data, quibbling with the statistical analysis and the number of rats tested. The whole thing has the making s of a big old nasty war. I find it curious that many of the people who fault the study are also against the requirement of labeling GMO foods, echoing the same tired bullet point that it will make food more expensive and hurt the third world. What rubbish! This leads me to wonder who is paying these supposed experts?

John Vidal of the Guardian runs down these bullet points in his article Study linking GM maize to cancer must be taken seriously by regulators:
  • 1. The French researchers were accused of using the Sprague Dawley rat strain which is said to be prone to developing cancers. In response Séralini and his team say these are the same rats as used by Monsanto in the 90-day trials which it used to get authorisation for its maize. This strain of rat has been used in most animal feeding trials to evaluate the safety of GM foods, and their results have long been used by the biotech industry to secure approval to market GM products.
  • 2. The sample size of rats was said to be too small. Séralini responded that six is the OECD recommended protocol for GM food safety toxicology studies and he had based his study on the toxicity part of OECD protocol no. 453. This states that for a cancer trial you need a minimum of 50 animals of each sex per test group but for a toxicity trial a minimum of 10 per sex suffices. Monsanto used 20 rats of each sex per group in its feeding trials but only analysed 10, the same number as Séralini.
  • 3. No data was given about the rats’ food intake. Seralini says the rats were allowed to eat as much food as they liked.
  • 4. Séralini has not released the raw data from the trial. In response he says he won’t release it until the data underpinning Monsanto’s authorisation of NK603 in Europe is also made public.
  • 5. His funding was provided by an anti-biotechnology organisation whose scientific board Séralini heads. But he counters that almost all GM research is funded by corporates or by pro-biotech institutions.
And from GMWatch, Scientists' response to critics of Seralini's study
Friday, 21 September 2012 23:27
One main criticism has been that Seralini used "the wrong rat" in his study. Seralini's critics said that the Sprague-Dawley (SD) rat is "prone" to tumours and so no conclusion can be drawn from the increase in tumours from treatment with GM maize and Roundup. The suggestion is that the rats would have got the tumours anyway, even without GM maize or Roundup.
Of course, the big problem with this argument is that the GM maize-fed and Roundup-exposed groups got significantly more tumours than the controls, as the scientists' response below explains.
We only add to this that data on cancer incidence in SD rats and humans gathered by the Ramazzini Institute in Italy show that the Sprague-Dawley (SD) rat is an excellent human-equivalent model for long-term carcinogenicity studies. The cancer pattern of SD rats was found to accurately mirror that of humans (see slides 13–16 of this presentation): http://bit.ly/QsDRno
In other words, the SD rat has high predictive power for identifying carcinogenic effects in humans. 
It's true that as SD rats age, they get more "spontaneous" tumours. But so do humans. And SD rats, like humans, also develop cancers from environmental exposures to carcinogens, and these will be added onto the background "spontaneous" level of cancers, just as we see in Seralini's study. 
Plus, hundreds of carcinogenicity and chronic toxicity studies done on pesticides, chemicals, and GM foods by industry for regulatory purposes use the S-D rat. So if Seralini's critics want to argue that the S-D rat is "the wrong rat", they will have to chuck out all the pesticides, chemicals, and GM foods that were approved on the basis of S-D rat tests. That means, goodbye, glyphosate, as well as to many GM foods.
The issues raised by this study need to be seriously vetted. The FDA has never performed its own study on GMO corn, instead accepting Monsanto's own studies on two occasions. We need to find independent government and academic scientists that can deliver objective and honest scientific research without absorbing Monsanto's pressure, wrath and intimidation. Or at least somebody not on their payroll, if that is still possible. Until then, let us hope that at least GMO food be adequately labeled so that we can make our own personal decision in regards to consuming these products.

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