Since its publication in September 2012, a study that showed rats fed Monsanto’s glyphosate-resistant NK603 maize developed more tumors than controls has been roundly criticized for its poor experimental design and dubious statistical methods. Yesterday, the study was retracted.
The retraction was initiated by the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology after the authors refused to withdraw it themselves. Writes Barbara Casassus for Nature News:
The paper, from a research group led by Gilles-Eric Séralini, a molecular biologist at the University of Caen, France, and published in 20121, showed “no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data”, said a statement from Elsevier, which publishes the journal. But the small number and type of animals used in the study means that “no definitive conclusions can be reached”. The known high incidence of tumours in the Sprague-Dawley rat ”cannot be excluded as the cause of the higher mortality and incidence observed in the treated groups”, it added.
Today’s move came as no surprise. Earlier this month, the journal’s editor-in-chief, Wallace Hayes, threatened retraction if Séralini refused to withdraw the paper, which is exactly what he announced at a press conference in Brussels this morning. Séralini and his team remained unrepentant, and allege that the retraction derives from the journal's editorial appointment of biologist Richard Goodman, who previously worked for biotechnology giant Monsanto for seven years.
The important thing to remember about GMOs is that they are merely one solution to an ancient human puzzle, viz. how do we feed ourselves, and how do we do it safely? Are they the end-all-be-all solution to challenges of agricultural productivity? Hardly. But neither are they unambiguously cancer-causing scourges upon humanity. Studies like this, which cut corners to arrive at a scary conclusion, undercut both sides of the GMO debate by painting one side as credulous and the other as obstinate.
What we need is solid science and a measured approach to interpretation. As Nature reporter Natasha Gilbert noted in her recent investigation of GM crops:
Tody stories, in favour of or against GM crops, will always miss the bigger picture, which is nuanced, equivocal and undeniably messy. Transgenic crops will not solve all the agricultural challenges facing the developing or developed world... but vilification is not appropriate either. The truth is somewhere in the middle."