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GMO pigs study – more junk science

Here’s the latest piece of GMO scaremongering: “Pigs fed a diet of only genetically modified grain showed markedly higher stomach inflammation than pigs who dined on conventional feed, according to a new study by a team of Australian scientists and US researchers.” Mark Lynas, once a leader in the anti-GM camp, now turned advocate for GM, investigates this latest ‘research’…. is it true and ground-breaking, or propaganda dressed up as science?

propaganda dressed up as science
propaganda dressed up as science

GMO pig studyHere’ the latest piece of GMO scaremongering: “Pigs fed a diet of only genetically modified grain showed markedly higher stomach inflammation than pigs who dined on conventional feed, according to a new study by a team of Australian scientists and US researchers.” Mark Lynas, once a leader in the anti-GM camp, now turned advocate for GM, investigates the truth behind this latest ‘research’ and finds it is “propaganda dressed up as science”.

Lynas writes on his website:

When I saw on Twitter that a ‘major new peer-reviewed study’ was about to reveal serious health impacts from GMO corn and soya, I was intrigued to say the least. Would this be Seralini 2.0, a propaganda effort by anti-biotech campaigners masquerading as proper science, or something truly new and ground-breaking?

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence – and it would take a lot of extraordinary evidence to confound the hundreds of studies showing that GMO foods are just as safe as conventional, as summarised in this recent AAAS statement:

“The science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe. The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the US National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.”

So when I found the paper, again via Twitter, I determined to read it as I would a climate ‘denier’ paper which aimed to overturn the scientific consensus in that area – with an open mind, but a sceptical one. I could see that it was already generating news, and the anti-GMO crowd on Twitter were also getting excited about some new grist to their ideological mill. Here’s what Reuters wrote:

“Pigs fed a diet of only genetically modified grain showed markedly higher stomach inflammation than pigs who dined on conventional feed, according to a new study by a team of Australian scientists and US researchers.”

Really? Time to have a look at the study. It is by a Judy Carman and colleagues, entitled ‘A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed a combined genetically modified (GM) soy and GM maize diet’ and published in a minor Australian journal I have never heard of called ‘Journal of Organic Systems’. (This journal does not appear in PubMed, suggesting it is not taken very seriously in the scientific community. It only publishes about twice a year, mostly with research touting the benefits of organic agriculture.)

I skimmed the paper first, and the conclusions seemed doubtful enough (see below) to try to find out who was beind it. So I looked at the sponsors of this journal. They include the Organic Federation of Australia, which seemed odd for a journal presumably aiming to be independent. Imagine the hullaballoo if Nature Biotechnology was sponsored by Monsanto!

I also wondered who Judy Carman and her colleagues were. She turns out to be – as I feared – a long-time anti-biotech campaigner, with a website called ‘GMOJudyCarman‘, which says it is supported by GMOSeralini.org. She is a founding member, according to this website, of the scientific advisory council of the Sustainable Food Trust. The Sustainable Food Trust was the UK outfit set up by former organic lobbyist Patrick Holden which stage-managed the media release of the infamous Seralini GMO rats study to the Daily Mail and other credulous outlets.

What about the co-authors? One is a Howard Vlieger, who seems to have made some wild allegations about GMOs in the past if this source is to be believed. Vlieger is president and co-founder of Verity Farms, a US ‘natural foods’ outfit which markets non-GMO grain. Despite this, the paper declares that the authors have no conflicts of interest, although it seems to me that he would have a very clear commercial interest in scaring people about GMOs in order to drum up business of his GMO-free offerings.

What about funding? The paper states that funding came from Verity Farms, the natural product outfit mentioned above. Carman and her colleagues are also funded by and associated with the Institute of Health and Environmental Research, an Australian not-for-profit which seems to be entirely dedicated to anti-GMO activism. Recent activities have included opposing Bt brinjal in India and CSIRO’s GMO wheat in Australia. Funding sources are not disclosed, although donations are solicited. The paper’s acknowledgements are a veritable who’s who of anti-biotech activism, includin Jeffrey Smith, John Fagan and Arpad Pusztai.

So, that’s the context. Now let’s look at what raised my suspicions about the actual study. Well, Carman and colleagues claim significant differences in a long-term study of pigs fed GMO and non-GMO diets. But if you look at the data they present (and the data presentation is at least a step better than Seralini) there are obvious problems. Clearly all the animals were in very poor health – weaner mortality is reported as 13% and 14% in GM-fed and non-GM fed groups, which they claim is “within expected rates for US commercial piggeries”, a vague statement intended to justify what seem to have been inadequate husbandry standards…..

www.marklynas.org: Read the full article

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