The journal Food and Chemical Toxicology has retracted a much-criticized paper that links a strain of genetically modified (GM) maize with severe diseases in rats. The paper's author, French biologist Gilles-Eric Séralini of the University of Caen, slammed the decision, which he said is an attempt by the GM crop industry to muzzle scientists who put into question the safety of its products.
Séralini's paper sparked a media storm when it was published in September 2012. While some commentators presented the study as proof that GM food is “poison,” many scientists dismissed the study as flawed, and several official bodies also found it wanting.
Elsevier, the journal's publisher, said in a statement released on 28 November that “the results presented (while not incorrect) are inconclusive, and therefore do not reach the threshold of publication for Food and Chemical Toxicology.”
Séralini had presented his research as the first long-term study of the effects of GM feed on animal health. For 2 years, the authors fed rats with different doses of Monsanto's GM maize NK603, a strain made resistant to a herbicide called glyphosate (marketed under the name Roundup). They found that rats that ate GM maize or glyphosate suffered from more tumors, organ damage, and premature deaths than control animals.
Wallace Hayes, the journal's editor-in-chief, said in Elsevier's statement that he “found no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data.” But the number of animals in each study group was too low, he added, and the rat strain used in the study has a high incidence of tumors anyway—so the high mortality could be caused by “normal variability.”
Séralini countered that his experiment was modeled after Monsanto's own 3-month study assessing the toxicity of maize NK603 as part of its market authorization application. Besides, the number and strain of rats used in the study are not valid reasons for a retraction, Séralini told reporters here on 28 November, referring to the criteria defined by the Committee on Publication Ethics in its retraction guidelines for journal editors.
Séralini counts on the support of several scientists, including Paul Deheuvels, a member of the French Academy of Sciences and statistics professor at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris. At the same press conference, Deheuvels said Séralini's study is statistically sound and serves as an “innovative,” “exploratory” study that can be a starting point to larger ones to confirm—or refute—the findings.
On a broader note, Séralini slammed what he sees as an interference of economic interests into the scientific process, accusing the journal of directly caving in to industry pressure to discredit his work. “Public health is under threat because science is losing ethics and morals,” Séralini said.