Last year, anti-biotechnology activists from France published a paper alleging that a strain of genetically improved corn led to cancer in rats. The publication, conveniently timed in advance of the vote on Proposition 37 that would have mandated scientifically unnecessary labeling of genetically improved foods in California, was immediately pilloried by the scientific community, with six of France’s national scientific academies, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, and the European Food Safety Authority finding it inadequate. A Los Angeles Times columnist was blunter, calling the study “weapons-grade junk science.” The report was released under a non-standard media policy that observers suggested was designed to avoid scrutiny as well.
Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, science prevailed over junk as the publisher of the study (the Elsevier journal Food and Chemical Toxicology) ordered the paper retracted. The editor-in-chief (who led the post-publication review) suggested that the study lacked scientific merit and should never have cleared initial review. He wrote:
A more in-depth look at the raw data revealed that no definitive conclusions can be reached with this small sample size regarding the role of either NK603 or glyphosate in regards to overall mortality or tumor incidence. Given the known high incidence of tumors in the Sprague-Dawley rat, normal variability cannot be excluded as the cause of the higher mortality and incidence observed in the treated groups.
In layman’s terms, the editor is saying that the “treatment” (biotech-fed) and control groups were so small—and the rate of naturally occurring cancers in the animals chosen so high—that any difference observed was unlikely to be linked to the consumption of genetically improved corn.
The New York Times took the opportunity to point out that the author doesn’t agree with the journal’s decision, but that fact can’t rescue the findings from the rubbish bin. The author, Gilles-Eric Seralini, is a longstanding anti-genetic improvement activist who published a book that was released close to the initial publication of the study.
Seralini isn’t credible. Now his junk study has been retracted. Bon débarras, monsieur. (Good riddance, sir.)