New analysis claims Monsanto skewed GM corn findings, but is hype clouding the real story?

Monsanto conducted studies to evaluate the toxicity of genetically modified (GM) corn on rats as part of European regulatory registry of GM food and feed, prior to commercialization. To our knowledge, only a summary of the findings were made available to the public (for examples see European Food Safety Authority reports NK603, MON863). Greenpeace sued Monsanto to access the original study data, which it then passed along to French investigator Dr. Joël Spiroux de Vendômois, who published a reanalysis of the Monsanto study.

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Unlike what was concluded in the Monsanto study, Vendomois’ group’s reanalysis found consumption of GM corn to be associated with rat kidney and liver toxicity. The strains of GM corn evaluated in the study (NK 603, MON 810 and MON 863) contained residues of chemicals that allow the plants to tolerate herbicides or insecticides, such as Round-up.

Online sources were quick to cite the GM corn article as evidence of the ills of GM crops. At the time of this writing, social bookmarking sites Reddit and Digg had a combined total of 4,341 tags/votes for a single Huffington Post article about GM corn study.

It is useful that the Huffington Post is raising awareness of GM foods debate; what is concerning is that the media coverage of the study appears to muddle the study conclusions.

Dr. Vendômois and colleagues are quick to say their findings are merely “signs of toxicity rather than proofs of toxicity”; no mention of organ failure in rats is made in the article. This is in contrast with the Huffington Post story that uses organ failure in the title, Monsanto’s GMO Corn Linked To Organ Failure, Study Reveals, and the follow-up story, Monsanto GM Corn Causing Organ Failure In Rats Study: Everything You Need To Know, which further exaggerated study findings to imply a causal link between GM corn consumption and organ failure. Link and causation are distinct concepts and are not interchangeable. Overextending the study’s findings is unwarranted, especially given the study authors’ reservation regarding the quality (and quantity) of the Monsanto data. A similar opinion was expressed from another online source. Read More >

Is the UK Abandoning the Precautionary Principle on Genetically Modified (GM) Crops?

The latest posting by FoodforeThought summarizes recent debate in the United Kingdom about the role of genetically modified (GM) crops in planning for future food security. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) report, Food 2030 was released at the Oxford Farming Conference. The comments below by William Surman captured the mood of sustainable agriculture supporters, a group critical of industrial agriculture in the U.K. who held a concurrent meeting called the Oxford Real Farming Conference:

“The government is ‘dangerously deluded’ if it believes genetically modified crops will solve the world’s food security issues,” members of the breakaway Oxford Real Farming Conference warned. Professor John Beddington, the Government’s chief scientist, told the Prime Minister on Wednesday, January 8, that genetic technology would help deliver ‘a new and greener food revolution’ for Britain.

But Colin Tudge, a science writer and organiser of the rival farm conference, which took place alongside the Oxford Farming Conference, said farmers did not need ‘novel and untried’ technology. Instead he said the Government must ‘free farmers from the shackles of economic dogma’. Read More >