Wednesday, June 26, 2013

No high fructose corn syrup in Monsanto's response to Seralini

In my first blog article, I promised to review Monsanto's response to the Seralini et al article (2012). Interestingly, the European Commission was alarmed enough about Seralini's study to request that the European Food Safety authority take a look at the study as well. So, I (hope) to take a look at both of these articles in this post.


Monsanto's response is pretty brief. It's only 7 pages (including summary) in fairly large font size and 2 pages are dedicated to references. Not your traditional scientific style. My guess is that it was written in a format that would make it easy for reporters and analysts to view and read. There are two large sections:
  • Plausibility and Weight of evidence. In this section they give a point by point breakdown of findings that contradict previous studies or are highly unlikely given the number of studies that have been done in the past. These include studies showing that glyphosates don't cause cancer and have no side-effects (glyphosate is the chemical in Roundup). I thought that these were good points, but still, there's the possibility that Seralini might have discovered something new. The strongest point in this section was Monsanto's argument that there's no plausible mechanism to explain how the DNA from the corn OR the protein that confers Roundup resistance might cause cancer.
    • In my opinion, this is a really strong argument. Obviously, the DNA from the cells we eat don't do anything to us. Otherwise we wouldn't be able to eat anything, whether it's GM or not. The modified proteins that come from GM plants get digested the same way we digest any other protein. Our stomach and intestines don't know the difference (if our stomachs were that smart, I would totally start working on a way for my stomach to not breakdown chocolate or other delicious treats.... Mmmmm... Chocolate...). I did look it up and found two studies that have looked into the digestion of the protein that confers Roundup resistance and it seems to get chewed up pretty quickly in the gut, so at least Monsanto was accurate there.
  • The second section commented on Design, Conduct, and Interpretation of Seralini's study. This section was a bit painful to read, only because I kept putting myself in Seralini's shoes. It's tough getting your work criticized, harder still getting it torn to shreds. I honestly don't know if Seralini chose to omit findings and statistics from his papers, but if he didn't and it was a genuine mistake, then reading this section of Monsanto's response would have been very painful. Monsanto was not rude, cruel or critical. Monsanto was to the point and didn't sugar coat anything and used phrases such as "no data at all, let alone any summary statistics, are provided". As a person who used to recoil at the sight of her professor's red pen, statements such as those can make deep cuts. But let's get back to Monsanto's retort:
    • I was happy to see that Monsanto highlighted many of the same issues I pointed out in my first post: no statistics, missing data, not enough rats used, no link between dosage and symptoms/severity, etc. 
    • There were a couple of items that I was very surprised to learn. The most shocking one is that the rat strain used in the study has historically high rate of tumors/cancer. Thus, Monsanto argues that the numbers that the authors provide for the incidence of tumors fall within the norm for the strain. I looked it up and it's apparently true: a study in Cancer Research looked at 150 female rats of the same strain used by Seralini. 57% of the rats developed tumors throughout their life-span and they were raised on standard lab feed. 95% of the tumors they observed were in mammary gland tissues. Before you argue that it's possible that standard lab feed has GM corn, you should know that the paper was published in 1956. Another paper published in the 70's found that the incidence of spontaneous tumors was 45%. Again, they state that the females had double the tumor rate and this was primarily due to mammary tumors (that's almost verbatim a sentence from my first blog listing Seralini's "findings"). Wow. I can't help but feel that Seralini was outright deceptive. If I was able to find those two papers and get the highlights of their conclusions from a 5 minute websearch, Seralini had no excuse. Unless he was doing his research in North Korea. #sleezy
    • Monsanto pointed out a few times how the data was highly selective: for example, the authors only provide information on kidney tumor incidences in males, but not females. I thought that this was a very valid point. In today's electronic age and high-throughput sciences, it's a standard practice to post your data online so that people can download it and analyze it for themselves. But this wasn't done for Seralini's paper. Why, oh why???
Well, I was told that my first post was really long, so I'll skip the European Commission's review and leave it for next week. After reading these two articles, here's my conclusion: I think Seralini has a point in stating that long-term studies have not been done for GM crops. However, his study wasn't done well. At best, it was incorrect and inaccurate. But at worst, it was deceitful. Yet there's nothing inaccurate in Monsanto's response. At this point in time, Monsanto is being so carefully scrutinized that they can't afford to lie in a press statement. Sure, they can be sleezy and quietly pass legislation through Congress. However, I think that if they were to publish ANYTHING that could be refuted, anti-GMO groups would be all over them (that's not to say that we shouldn't examine what Monsanto publishes very carefully). But I think this is probably why their response to Seralini was so dry and in bulletform.

For your reference, here's Monsanto's response:
A summary of their response can also be found on their website:

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