Elsevier retracts study on rats fed GM food

Two-year animal feeding study showed that rats fed Monsanto's genetically modified maize NK603 or water containing roundup died much earlier

By Jyotika Sood
Published: Friday 29 November 2013

In female rats, the largest tumours were five times more frequent than in males, with 93 per cent being mammary tumours. These were deleterious to health due to their large size and caused impediments to breathing or nutrition and digestion

Elsevier, the publisher of scientific journal Food and Chemical Toxicology has retracted a scientific study on effect of genetically modified food on rats which was published in November last year. The study was conducted by well known French scientist Gilles-Eric Seralini and his team at the Institute of Biology at the University of Caen, France and had sparked fury and outrage among the scientists, industry and anti-GM activists last year because of its results. The publisher has retracted the study even though a probe established that there was no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of data in the study.
The action has come almost a year after the study—Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize—was published after Seralini and his team refused to retract the paper despite pressures and requests.

Seralini and his seven-member team in their two-year animal feeding study on 200 rats found that when rats were fed with Monsanto’s herbicide tolerant genetically modified maize NK603 or given water mixed with herbicide Roundup, the animals died much earlier than the other rats in the control group. The study showed that up to 50 per cent of the male rats and 70 per cent of female rats died prematurely. These rats also developed hormonal and sex-related problems. While the males developed severe kidney disease, the females in the control group were found to suffer from mammary tumours and pituitary problems. It was the first ever long-term study on health-effects done by scientists since the debate on GM crops started in the world (see 'The GM Maize rats').

In a press statement, Elsevier’s editor-in-chief, A Wallace Hayes says he has found no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data. However, there is a legitimate cause for concern regarding both the number of animals in each study group and the particular strain selected. The low number of animals had been identified as a cause for concern during the initial review process, but the peer review decision ultimately weighed that the work still had merit despite this limitation.

Hayes adds the results presented (while not incorrect) are inconclusive, and, therefore, do not reach the threshold of publication for Food and Chemical Toxicology. He says the retraction has comes after a thorough and time-consuming analysis of the published article and the data it reports, along with an investigation into the peer review of the article. Elsevier is a world-leading provider of scientific, technical and medical information products and services. The company works in partnership with the global science and health communities to publish more than 2,000 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and close to 20,000 book titles, including major reference works from Mosby and Saunders.

Meanwhile, GMWatch, an international watchdog on GM technology, has termed the retraction “illicit, unscientific, and unethical”. “It violates the guidelines for retractions in scientific publishing set out by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), of which journal is a member,” they said.

They argued that COPE guidelines state that the only grounds for a journal to retract a paper are clear evidence that the findings are unreliable because of misconduct—data fabrication, for instance—or honest error, plagiarism or redundant publication or unethical research. But Séralini’s paper does not meet any of these criteria and Hayes admits as much, said COPE.

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