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More GMO-bashing, but as usual the other side gets short shrift in media

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A French study reporting that mice that ate genetically modified corn sprayed with glyphosate — or drank water with glyphosate levels similar to that in U.S. tap water — were much more likely to die, and to die younger is the latest we’re-all-being-poisoned-the-sky-is-falling scenario from those those who would have agriculture revert to mules and manure — and certainly is nothing new in France, where opposition to GMOs has been a cause célèbre from Day 1.

The headlines in the world media and on the Internet were downright apocalyptic: “Massive tumors in rats fed GM maize.” “New study: Rats fed lifetime of GM corn grow tumors; 70% of females die early.” “France orders probe after rat study links GM corn, cancer.” “Shock findings in new GMO study: Rats fed lifetime of GM corn grow horrifying tumors” (this one ended, “Spread the word: GMOs are toxic”).

And on and on.

This latest health Armageddon tempest in a teapot was occasioned by a French study reporting that mice that ate genetically modified corn sprayed with glyphosate — or drank water with glyphosate levels similar to that in U.S. tap water — were much more likely to die, and to die younger.

Results, the French researchers claim, showed female rats fed GMO corn were two to three times more likely to die than rats in the control group that didn’t eat the corn. Fifty percent of males and 20 percent of females that ate the corn died significantly earlier than those in the control group.

“Eating genetically modified corn and consuming trace levels of (glyphosate) chemical fertilizer [?] caused …horrifying tumors, widespread organ damage, and premature death,” one website reported, terming the study “the most thorough research ever published into the health effects of GM food crops” and glyphosate.

This Frankensteinian, we’re-all-being-poisoned-the-sky-is-falling scenario is nothing new by those who would have agriculture revert to mules and manure — and certainly not in France, where opposition to GMOs has been a cause célèbre from Day 1.

Dig deeper into the media fray, though, and there are more reasoned voices behind the headlines. Great Britain’s Science Media Centre noted concerns by a raft of other scientists about the study (http://www.sciencemediacentre.org/pages/press_releases/12-09-19_gm_maize_rats_tumors.htm).

Here are a few of the concerns they cited:

—“There are anomalies throughout the paper that normally should have been resolved through the peer review process.”

—“In my opinion, the methods, stats, and reporting of results are all well below the standard I would expect in a rigorous study; to be honest, I am surprised it was accepted for publication.”

—“The control group is inadequate to make any deduction.”

—“Like most of the GM debate, this work has very little to do with GM… There is good evidence that introducing genes into crops using GM techniques results in fewer changes to the crops than introducing them using conventional breeding.”

—“The first thing that leaps to my mind is, why has nothing emerged from epidemiological studies…where so much GM has been in the food chain for so long? If the effects are as big as reported, and if the work really is relevant to humans, why aren’t North Americans dropping like flies? GM has been in the food chain there for over a decade, and longevity continues to increase inexorably! And if the effects are as big as claimed, why haven’t the previous 100-plus studies by reputable scientists, in refereed journals, noticed anything at all?”

Why indeed?

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