The pro-GMO advocacy group Biofortified announced in late August that the group’s much-hyped GENERA database of GMO research is now available for public review in a trial version. Though the database contains only a fraction of the GMO research available (400 of 1200 studies, according to Biofortified), this hasn’t stopped the group from drawing sweeping conclusions about what the science says.
The partisan group has always incorrectly stated that the scientific literature shows that GMOs are safe. But with the release of GENERA, the group now boasts that “half of GMO research is independent,” and notes that this finding “should turn the heads of people who thought it was skewed to private, U.S.-based laboratories.”
My head is turning—at the partisan spin that Biofortified continually employs.
First, Biofortified draws its funding conclusion not on its analysis of all GMO research, but only the 400 studies currently available in the GENERA database.
Second, 83 of the 400 studies do not disclose a funding source, meaning there is a major gap in funding data. Biofortified doesn’t say much about this, predictably, so allow me. The fact that authors are not disclosing all sources of funding (and conflicts of interest) presents an obvious avenue for biased research to enter the scientific discourse. If Biofortified is committed to independent science, it should be strenuously calling for full disclosure, not sweeping these findings under the rug.
Third, Biofortified’s deeply flawed funding analysis doesn’t accurately or comprehensively reflect industry influence. For example, Biofortified doesn’t consider the impact of industry authorship on independence. If the pro-GMO Gates Foundation funds a study that is authored by a Monsanto scientist, should we really call that study “independent?” Biofortified apparently thinks so.
Biofortified has also mislabeled funders as being independent when they are not. The Monsanto-funded American Society of Nutrition, which co-funded a journal article with Monsanto, is labeled by Biofortified as an “independent” group. Incredibly, if you search for all studies funded by “independent” non-governmental organizations, you find that Monsanto co-funded 10 percent of these 30 studies, calling into question the “independence” of these NGOs.
Did I mention that Monsanto is the most common funder in the database? That’s what the data analysis tool in GENERA shows. Monsanto funded 46 of the journal articles in the database (probably a larger number if you count all Monsanto subsidiaries), which is more than 10 percent of the studies. It is likely that the USDA is actually the largest funder of studies in GENERA, but Biofortified’s coding makes it difficult to tell.
It is worth mentioning that when Biofortified says half of all GMO research is “independent,” most of that is funded by government agencies, many of which are active GMO supporters or promoters, like the USDA. Or consider the “independent” UK-government-funded Biotechnology and Biological Research Council, which officially supports GMOs, invests in GMO research, and regularly collaborates with biotech companies like Monsanto. It’s also “independent.”
We knew at the outset that GENERA wasn’t likely to be a useful tool to anyone except the biotech industry and its supporters. It is a partisan effort built on a mountain of biases, and, predictably, it is being used (poorly) to distort the public discourse on GMOs in the very same way that it distorts the science.
If you are curious about what the scientific literature really says about GMOs, check out the work of hundreds of international scientists, whose findings openly challenge the partisans at Biofortified by proclaiming that not only is there no consensus on the safety of GMOs, there is actually some cause for concern.
And if you want to learn more about the flaws in industry’s claims about the supposed “scientific consensus” about the safety of GMOs, check out our new issue brief.
Or, you can blindly trust Biofortified to “read the studies so you don’t have to.”
Update, 10/1/14: Because of an internal miscommunication, this blog was very briefly posted with the wrong headline that mistakenly stated that the GENERA database was funded by Monsanto instead of saying studies in the database were funded by Monsanto. After the author noted the problem, the blog was corrected within hours of its original posting in mid-September. We regret the error.