Gilles Eric Seralini’s article on his study that purportedly found high mortality among rats exposed to glyphosate and genetically modified corn came close to making his name a household word.
The article, published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, went viral and since November 2012 has been a focal point for the debate swirling around whether, and how, to base food policy on science. The question is, if that is the only way to devise decent policy, whose science do we base it on?
Last week, Elsevier, publisher of the journal, retracted the article.
The main reason revolved around the small sample size. Too few rats were exposed to NK603 corn or gly-phosate to determine their effects on mortality or tumour incidence.
“Given the known high incidence of tumours in the Sprague-Dawley rat, normal variability cannot be excluded as the cause of the higher mortality and incidence observed in the treated groups,” said Elsevier in its news release.
Therefore, the journal found, the results of Seralini et al.’s study are inconclusive. Therefore, the journal is retracting the article.
What is fascinating is how much influence respondents to the article had, largely in the form of letters to the editor, which were also published. Many letters asked for a re-traction of the paper.
The journal’s editor decided, due to those concerns, to examine the peer-review process and raw data from the study, and that led to the retraction.
“The letters to the editor, both pro and con, serve as a post-publication peer-review,” said Elsevier. “The back and forth between the readers and the author has a useful and valuable place in our scientific dialog.”
Seralini’s name has appeared many times in The Western Producer, both in stories about his findings and in several opinion pieces and letters to the editor. The debate over glyphos-ate and GM crops rages on, liberally peppered with passion and sometimes frustration and often anger, on both sides of the scientific divide.
Yet these debates must be had, and it is important that there are forums to host them. It is rare that an issue is so clear that all signs point to one conclusion. This study’s results, originally approved for publication and then retracted, is an excellent example. It also shows that when you get involved in a worthwhile debate, there may, sometimes, actually be a measurable outcome.