Risky business of GMO studies

Hendon Chubb’s letter to The Lakeville Journal on Jan. 9 concerning the Food Illusions column is welcome to help shed more light on the conflicted state of government and GMO science dysfunction today. May I suggest additional detail below might be helpful for better public understanding of the ongoing science and safety debate concerning the quality of GMO food in our food supply? This is an issue I saw our Connecticut state legislators taking great interest in debating last year, ultimately passing P.A. 13-183 An Act Concerning Genetically-Engineered Food.

To Mr. Chubb’s cited point, if the Seralini GMO health study (Food Illusions, Dec. 26, 2013) was retracted for reasons cited by the journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) for the numbers of rats used and strain of rat, why shouldn’t this call into question Monsanto’s own studies to gain European Food Safety approval?

Monsanto’s 2004 study using GMO corn (NK603) and Sprague Dawley rats was used in achieving regulatory approval for the GMO corn. The Seralini study was designed to replicate this Monsanto rat study, (which showed signs of liver and kidney toxicity that food safety regulators deemed not biologically relevant at the 90 day termination of the study). The major difference between the two studies was the longer duration of the Seralini study. Monsanto’s study ended after only 90 days, while the Seralini study went for the full two-year average lifetime of the rats.

The Seralini study, remarkably the most detailed long term study ever published concerning GMO health impacts, went through rigorous peer-review and was publicly available for over a year in FCT. It revealed that consumption of GMO corn sprayed with RoundupTM showed liver and kidney organ damage, higher female morbidity rates (with females dying two to three times more than controls in all rat groups) and additionally, cancer tumors starting in the fourth month of the study. In treated males, the liver and kidneys were the most commonly impacted organs, and deaths were mostly due to liver and kidney disease.

The extraordinary nature of this study retraction is best reflected in comments in a letter to the Economist by Ellen Silbergeld, editor-in-chief of a sister international peer-reviewed science journal, Environmental Research, who felt compelled to criticize the retraction request of the FCT-published Seralini study, stating “the circumstances surrounding this withdrawal should give more pause to the scientific community and other consumers of scientific papers.” She went on to state in response to an Economist editorial on the retraction: “Without any brief as to the controversy or engagement in similar research, I consider this a lamentable decision. I am troubled because as an editor I rely upon the critical review of peers to determine acceptability of a paper submitted to my journal, and as a scientist, I rely upon the same system of peer review to receive a fair review of my own work. This action introduces a breach in a system of trust, which, with all its faults is, as Churchill said of democracy, better than any other process we have thought of up to this time.”

It is curious that the irregular retraction hatchet didn’t drop until after a new biotechnology editor was hired from industry. Given the pervasiveness of GMO foods in human and animal food supplies, the serious health findings of the Seralini team, at the very least, should prompt more thorough and objective regulatory studies (which should have been conducted in the first place before regulators let GMO crops loose into food supplies around the world).

On the local front, it is heartening that such a large bipartisan alliance of Connecticut legislators put public and food health interests over special interests last June, when they passed into law the first genetically engineered food labeling act in the nation. Besides ensuring consumers the right to know and make the healthiest food choices for their families, it will also facilitate tracking of GMO foods for health impacts such as the skyrocketing rates of children’s allergies since GMO foods were phased into the US food supply.

Next time we will move from the science to the supermarket to look at some recent good food news for consumers.

Leila Baroody holds master’s degrees in business and environmental studies, with career work experience in both areas. She lives in Lakeville.