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October 18th, 2012

Of Course Monsanto Says It’s Safe

By Tim Schwab

If you’ve been paying attention to the news about food lately, you’ve probably read about the now infamous “Seralini study,” in which University of Caen (France) molecular biologist Gilles-Eric Seralini demonstrated major health issues associated with eating Monsanto’s genetically engineered (GE) corn and the herbicide used in conjunction with it, RoundUp.

Widely covered by the media, most reports have tried to portray Seralini as a strident, ideologically driven researcher who willfully designed a study to produce a result showing that GE food is bad. Many science journalists criticized Seralini for having an anti-GE bias, for taking research money from a foundation that is anti-GE, and for not disclosing every piece of data to the public.

But this attack coverage seems grossly disproportionate given the realities around funding and bias in agricultural research. Science journalists seldom, if ever, cover the opposite angle: that industry has funded much of the scientific literature we have about the safety of GE foods. These industry-funded studies aren’t science as much as they are public relations, always concluding that GE is safe and good. And in our broken regulatory system for these controversial new foods, these industry studies are also what regulators use to approve new genetically engineered crops for our food supply.

Indeed, the strain of corn that Seralini studied, NK603, has been shown in the scientific literature to be safe—in studies done by Monsanto.  The company has produced at least seven studies about NK603 – all of them positive – in four peer-reviewed journals.   More shocking, at least three of these peer-reviewed journals openly advertise their corporate sponsors from the food industry, like Archer Daniel Midlands and Pioneer. One of these, the Journal of Animal Science is run by the American Society of Animal Science, which counts biotech companies BASF and Monsanto, as gold and silver sponsors. Most of the Monsanto studies include co-authors from public universities, whose names add credibility.

Does anyone honestly think that Monsanto is going to fund research about its products that casts them in an unfavorable light, then publish these findings in a journal over which it has financial influence for all to see?

Troublingly, industry is now paying hundreds of millions of dollars to fund research at public universities. Food & Water Watch explored the distorting and corrupting effect that corporate money, finding that some departments take upwards of 40 percent of the research grant money while some individual professors take 75 percent or more. This funding – along with the promise of future funding or the threat of losing it – reliably produces academic research that is favorable to industry sponsors. It also produces a widespread perception that because the scientific literature on GE is overwhelmingly positive, that the science is comprehensive and the consensus on GE safety is clear.

The reality is, there is little funding for independent research that challenges the industrial model of agriculture, including issues like the safety of GE. This is why Seralini’s study is both extremely rare and extremely important. Even government agencies, when they make regulatory decisions about GE foods, do little more than rubber stamp industry-funded science.

Seralini’s research funding came from the apt-named Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering, which has been vilified as anti-GE. 

Whether this group is or isn’t anti-GE, the truth is they are filling a vital gap in research funding around the safety of GE foods, and we should take their results at least as seriously as Monsanto’s. Two groups of scientists have come out in defense of Seralini’s research, fighting off industry-lead criticism. And the findings from Seralini’s study show that there is much more work to be done to investigate all of the potential health effects of eating GE food.

The status quo of industry influence over agricultural science means that NK603 remains a pervasive ingredient in our food system – apparently unchallengeable by scientists, unexamined by journalists and unavoidable by consumers because GE foods are unlabeled. 

At the same time that Monsanto and friends are trying desperately to discredit the small amount of research being done to see if GE foods are safe to eat, they are also fighting to prevent U.S. consumers from knowing if we are eating them. Learn more about the fight to require labeling of GE foods across the country and the heated battle raging in California over Prop 37, the ballot initiative to label GE foods.

8 Comments on Of Course Monsanto Says It’s Safe

  1. Keep up the great work you’re doing! Label label label! I’m hoping Prop 37 for California will pass if it doesn’t, it goes to show the ignorance of the people. I would like to think we’re all pretty smart and certainly progressive. We don’t want anything to do with these tumors, http://mphprogramslist.com/55-year-old-man-suffocates-from-massive-gmo-tumor/

  2. patti rich says:

    thanks for prinitng this article and supporting the research against round up, dioxin and GMO’s

  3. penny says:

    i find it appalling that the fda is doing so little to do the job that their agency was created to do, protect the citizens!! the more i read, the more obvious it is that that agency is a joke…..they pass untested drugs, they pass ge-foods, all without any REAL research…i guess it goes to show that america is for sale, to the company with the biggest checkbook!! it is truly a sad day in america

  4. Silvermaven says:

    And the FDA works for them so they do not force them to tell what those genetically modified organic do in genetically modified organisms the public is massively infected with. They use psych ops on USA for over 30yrs. to commit their crimes of taking the people out by infecting us all with gene sharing spirochetal infections and modified genetics to hide their crimes. Now 1 in 29 babies cannot tolerate to eat their gluten or the millions that suffer their syndromes because those altered unstoppable genetics share their genes with whatever they need to survive. Great Shame is upon the murders of man because they think they should inherit the earth. Because not only did they infect us all they refused to treat to protect profits.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=yOno_2m_8LY

  5. Ginger Alles Alvitre says:

    I think it is because Monsanto is a multi-billion dollar corporation with its tentacles reaching into other products in our everyday lives and that the FDA is somehow intimidated by Monsanto and its subsidiaries. Look what happened in India where Monsanto sold inferior seeds and the India farmers crops failed and many of them commited suicide rather than face the debt they were in for seeds that failed and Monsanto did nothing to make things right. Apparently in India there is no legal recourse against such things. It’s getting that way here. We don’t know the GM produce from the organic produce and who’s to say they aren’t grown with the same brand of seeds? Not to mention canned and frozen vegetables. They probably come fro GM seeds because they are commercially grown to be commercially canned, frozen and marketed. You need to find seed companies that are not genetically modifying their seeds and plant them and grow them yourself to be sure.

  6. Charles says:

    The complaint that studies are funded by the company are largely a red herring. Of course the studies are funded by the company. The studies are often required in order to get approval, and the companies are required to fund the studies.

    This is no different than if a company wants to build a new building. They are required to hire a civil engineering firm to study traffic and make a report of impact. Then the company uses that to get approval, and often they have to make modifications to their proposal.

    It may well be that a study that showed flaws wouldn’t be published. But it would prevent approval, and the company would then modify the crop to fix the problem. Then they would fund another study.

    In order to discredit a study, you have to show that the study itself is flawed. I assume you have no evidence of that, and this is why you instead attack the funding profile and attempt a falsification-by-innuendo, which is an inherently weak argument.

    Where your argument would be useful would be if you already had clear evidence of fraud in the study, and were trying to convince people of that fraud. One question you’d then answer is “why are they committing fraud” — and that is when you would provide the motive, meaning the money.

    Your argument is like this analogy: A guy writes that he hates a politician. Then the politician is killed. The police arrest the guy, since he has motive, even though he lives in another country and had no opportunity. You are providing the “motive” for someone to commit fraud, but no evidence that any fraud was committed.

    The anti-Monsanto movement is certainly well-funded, and well-supported by a host of scientists and scientist-wannabees. You have ample resources to actually do a study to show actual harm, if there were actual harm. If you are reduced to attacking the funding of studies you disagree with, and doing SURVEYS of studies so you can misrepresent their data or findings, it discredits your argument in the eyes of people, like me, who are looking for the truth.

    • aghosh says:

      Conflicts of interest can be readily identified in politics, in business, and, yes, in science. They can also be readily managed.

      The tobacco industry marshaled an enormous funding campaign to produce bogus science that distracted policy makers from taking action on cigarettes for years.

      Similarly, the biotech industry largely owns the science surrounding its products, and through their intellectual property, the company can, to a great extent, control how their products are studied. You vastly overestimate both the capacity of government to independently and adequately assess the value of these studies or regulate GE foods (it’s nothing at all like building codes) and also of the “anti-Monsanto movement” to go head-to-head with industry in a funding war for real estate in scientific journals.

      That’s what this blog is about, and your resistance is misplaced. When Seralini publishes what looks like the first-ever independent assessment of Monsanto’s NK603, he gets blasted from all sides as a ideologue and a biased scientist.

  7. Carlo33 says:

    @Charles: Private companies exist to make a profit. So if they sponsor reviews of scientific research it’s because it’s to their advantage. A reviewer is unlikely to write utterly objective reports of work sponsored by his employer, which is why reviewers of scientific papers are now obliged to reveal any links with funding entities. It is your comment that is the red herring. Nice try though.

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