An investigation into the latest study on transgenic food and pigs

This article appeared yesterday morning on reddit, and swiftly started the process of being reposted all over the internet. But what exactly is this article about? Are the claims valid? Who’s funding this study? Let’s take a look.

Here’s a link to the study (“A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed a combined genetically modified (GM) soy and GM maize diet”): http://www.organic-systems.org/journal/81/8106.pdf

The first thing I noticed was the journal this study was published in – the “Journal of Organic Systems”. It isn’t listed in PubMed, and doesn’t appear to be a very popular journal, with no more than a mere handful of studies published in the seven years it’s been around for. While the title alone isn’t indicative of bias, it does seem a bit suspicious how a study like this would be published in such an obscure journal – after all, even Seralini managed to get published in Food and Chemical Toxicology. On another worrying note, an Australian Organic Industry lobbying group is one of the six major sponsors of this journal.

Who is this Judy Carman? She’s apparently an anti-GM activist, judging by her criticisms of Bt Brinjal, her co-presentations with Seralini, her membership in an organization that appears to be fond of criticizing GM food, her fearmongering over the CSIRO wheat, more fearmongering over GM food safety in general, and her memberships in several other anti-biotech organizations. It’s also interesting to note that the last link there claims that she’s sponsored by Seralini/CRIIGEN, an organization/group that pushes pseudoscience and lies unashamedly. I suggest reading the second sponsor link – the front page alone is filled with bad studies and outright lies (such as the oft-repeated claims about Indian farmer suicides, which has been proven to be false by in-depth reviews of the data). They also have the amusingly flawed report from Benbrook linked on their front page, along with the recent Bt mice study.

So we have a suspicious journal, and a biased author… I wonder who’s funding the study? According to the study itself, there’s no bias to declare. Yet in the very next section, they state that they were funded in part by Verity Farms, a natural farming company that appears to grow and sell non-GM products. And guess who the other sponsor is? The Institute of Health and Environmental Research – the very same organization that Carman is a member of, an organization with an extremist anti-GM stance.

The study also acknowledges 38 other people for “their assistance”. Some notable names on this list include John Fagan (notorious anti-GM activist with a monetary interest in creating controversy), Jack Heinemann (he’s behind the hilarious scare piece on siRNA supposably silencing human genes), Arpad Pusztai, Jeffrey Smith, and a few other notable people such as Irena Zdziarski (only notable because she’s worked with Judy Carman before).

Why am I mentioning all these people? Because they all have ties to the anti-GM movement to some extent. Why are they thanked here? Why would Carman want to affiliate herself with people like Pusztai and Heinemann? Perhaps it’s because she’s worked with Heinemann before on creating anti-CSIRO-wheat propaganda, but nobody knows why she’d want to thank Pusztai for producing horribly flawed research.

Now that we’ve learned some valuable information about the study’s background, let’s start digging into the study itself.

On page 2, the authors claim that Snell’s meta-review of 24 long-term and multigenerational studies is deficient due to the types of animals used. Of the twenty-four listed, a fairly wide variety of animals are represented — Rats (7 studies), mice (10 studies), dairy cows (2 studies), salmon (1 study), macaques (1 study), broiler chickens (2 studies), goats (1 study), pigs/quail/sheep (1 study, also incl several other species accounted for in the other counts). There appears to be quite a wide variety of animals tested in the studies used by Snell, one of which also reviewed pigs. The authors brush off this variety of animals with the dismissive claim that “most of the studies reviewed used animals that were either not physiologically comparable to humans, or used only small numbers of animals”.

Oddly enough, the authors use 13 and 6 year dated studies as evidence that the literature is lacking, yet they ignore the massive amount of published research on the subject, much of which has been published recently.

They also cite a paper that “found that most of the more recent studies concentrate on only a few GM crops (soy, corn and rice), ignoring many other GM crops such as potatoes, peas and tomatoes”. However, soy and corn are among the most popular transgenic crops currently being grown, so it would make sense to concentrate testing on commercial crops that actually exist instead of on crops that never caught on or were never introduced in the first place. In an ironic twist, this study uses transgenic soy and corn as the feed for their pigs.

The study also cites two of Seralini’s studies. I won’t even bother pointing out the issues with citing Seralini, instead I recommend reading this article, especially the sections that discuss his many conflicts of interest, the EFSA evaluations of his 2007, 2009, and 2012 studies, and it can’t hurt to read this article and this collection of information on CRIIGEN.

Oddly enough, the study cites a Daily Mail scare piece article right next to Seralini’s 2012 study, despite both of them covering the exact same content.

This study seems to hinge on severe stomach inflammation being higher in the GM-fed pigs than in the non-GM-fed pigs. While GM fed pigs had the most severe inflammation, the non-GM-fed pigs beat out the GM-fed pigs in the mild and moderate categories. The statistics are a bit confusing too — 22.2% of GM-fed male pigs had “severe” inflammation (compared to 5.6%), yet 41.7% of GM-fed female pigs had “severe” inflammation (compared to 18.9%). This research seems to suggest that for “mild” and “moderate” inflammation, eating the GM feed is actually a good idea.

In a striking resemblance to Seralini’s 2012 paper, the included image of the pig stomachs uses examples from the GM pigs for moderate and severe inflammation, yet uses examples from the non-GM pigs for nil and mild inflammation. Without looking at the statistics, this image gives the false impression that only the GM pigs get the moderate and severe inflammation.

Professor Andrew Kniss did some statistical analysis on the results over at his blog, and concluded that “there was no statistical difference in stomach inflammation between the pigs fed the two different diets. To analyze these data the way the authors did makes it seem like they’re trying to find a difference, where none really exist”.

The only remaining claim is that the median uterus weight of GM-fed pigs was 25% higher than the weight from the non-GM pigs. The authors proposed that this was due to the GM feed, but David Tribe proposed another theory over at his blog:

A crucial missing piece of information is analysis for soybean isoflavone content. Soybean isoflavones are known compounds with female animal hormone activity, and as some differences were seen in ovary size in these animals, whether or not they have been exposed to different levels of isoflavones in formulating the two test diets is a most obvious question that does not appear to be considered by these investigators.

Isoflavone intake has been shown to directly increase uterine weight in rats, and the isoflavone genistein is linked to excessive fluid accumulation in the uterus. Since the authors appear to have neglected to test for isoflavone content, it seems plausible that the increased weight and fluid accumulation was caused by isoflavones, not the transgenes themselves.

In short, this study is a mini Seralini – and considering how closely Carman is linked to Seralini, it’s quite possible that he helped with this trainwreck of a study.

Update 6/12/13 18:30: According to David Tribe, the levels of mycotoxin in the GM grain were high enough to have toxic effects on the pigs

Update 6/13/13 21:30: Judy responded to Kniss’s post, but both Kniss and a commenter addressed her ad hominem based attack in detail.

It’s quite obvious at this point that Seralini and Carman have a very close working relationship, which explains why their responses sound so similar and why they’re both part of the “Sustainable Pulse” network of sites with identical layouts. Whoever runs her site appears to have slipped up — on the home page there is a section labeled “Scientists support Carman”, which links to this page: http://gmojudycarman.org/category/scientists-support-seralini/. Not only did they use the same theme, they didn’t even bother to modify the template, and doubtlessly will soon be publishing a list of scientists who support Carman.

This is quite clearly, as Mark Lynas puts it, “Seralini 2.0″.

5 thoughts on “An investigation into the latest study on transgenic food and pigs

  1. Funny how you attempt to discredit this study based on the scientists funding & attack their credibility while not disclosing anything about your own qualifications & establishing credibility yourself. Monsanto funded pro-gmo studies and yet you don’t note that as a conflict of interest and dismiss those findings. Obviously you are a troll and a lackey attempting to discredit findings that don’t agree with your agenda. Pathetic.

    • I criticized quite a bit more than the funding (did you read the article?). The scientists declared that they have no conflict of interest – yet the information I’ve discovered contradicts this claim, and establishes that there’s a significant conflict of interest. It’s suspicious to see lies for something like this.

      At any rate, ignore the bias if you wish, but you cannot ignore the statistical fishing trip that they have embarked on, the contradictory statistics, the misleading image, or the fact that there are two mechanisms that explain the uterine weight (which appears to be within normal variation limits anyways), yet the authors jump the the conclusion that transgenes are at fault.

      Which study linked to in this post was funded by Monsanto? Furthermore, do you have evidence of bias? I brought up the history here because it suggests bias is possible, which is supported by the shoddy work within the paper itself. Are you claiming that all biotech industry funded or affiliated studies also have major issues? Furthermore, do you have evidence that studies with a similar degree of funding from Monsanto do not declare a COI? Should authors with a history of producing biased or inaccurate work not be examined with a skeptical eye?

      I do not need personal credibility, my post has extensive citations and references several experts. My claims are backed up by evidence. Yours are not.

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