The First 20 Entries*, the Biofortified Response, and My Reply
Karl Haro von Mogel from the Biofortified website where the GENERA list is published has dedicated eight paragraphs and an italicised line to myself and these commentaries on the list. I won't try to comment on Karl's opinions, though they may in some cases be ill conceived, but I need to correct a number of facts. Mr Haro Von Mogel's seventh paragraph merits a thoughtful response.
Mr Haro von Mogel wrote that I am from MADGE Australia but this is not correct. I contributed within the MADGE Australia network until the end of 2011 after completion of the Australian Food Labelling Review. I was tired – I found it very hard converting deep science into a few lucid words for public communication. Since that time I've been researching independently, quietly reading. But I would support the MADGE network wherever I could, on science related aspects of the field, if requested. It does great work.
He stated that my goal "is to try to prove that this project and the research outlined in it can be dismissed". This is entirely incorrect. As I've written at the top of every report but Entry 1 "The general purpose is to counter the extraordinary claims that the entries on this list demonstrate the human food safety of GM crops." I do not have any goal to dismiss the studies on the list – just the extraordinary claims made in respect of the collection. No good science is ever wasted.
He linked to an exchange we had on twitter about the common misrepresentation of the list. Here are some examples I extracted from the web 23 days ago under the search terms of "600 studies" "GMO":
- "More than 600 scientific studies support the safety of genetically engineered (GE) foods." Jim Greenwood, President, chief executive officer, Biotechnology Industry Organization, Washington, D.C., on phillyburbs
- "But visiting US-based Wayne Parrott from the University of Georgia in the US, said contrary to common beliefs that GMOs were harmful, over 600 studies conducted over the years had proved that they were safe for human consumption." Phyllis Mbanje, on allAfrica
- "There is a plethora of science that supports the safety record of GM foods. As the Skeptico blog pointed out, there are more than 600 studies (>125 of which were independently funded) that stand behind the safety record of GM crops." Christie Wilcox, on Discover Magazine
- "Scientific organizations such as the National Academies of Science, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization among others have produced more than 600 scientific studies supporting the safety of biotech products and genetically modified foods." KAREN BATRA, Director, Food and Agriculture Communications, Biotechnology Industry Organization, Washington, on TheLedger
- "Thousands of scientific studies on the safety of genetically engineered foods have been conducted worldwide. More than 600 peer-reviewed studies have been gathered here [link to the list] attesting to the safety of GMOs and many of those studies have been carried out by independent academics and publicly funded research institutes." Cami Ryan, on Independent Women's Forum
- "…However it wouldn't matter even if there were more, since study after study shows that gm foods are perfectly safe. There are over 600 studies, you can peruse them yourself at biofortified[.]org in the Genera database." "Beth" on Foodbabe
- "With over 20 years and 600+ peer-reviewed studies proving that GM crops and GM foods are safe?" Sarah, on nurselovesfarmer
I have been following this list for some years, from when it was a list of 233 studies on the "gmopundit" website of Dr David Tribe in 2008, before it became the "GENERA" list. It was being misrepresented as a list of studies demonstrating the human food safety of GM crops even then, as now.
I'm not sure how it has come to pass that so many well-meaning individuals have misrepresented this list. However on seeing that this is happening the owners should take preventative steps, such as rewording their text so that it can't be misinterpreted outside the authors' intention, and/or making an explicit statement to avoid such misrepresentation in the future.
The purpose of this series is to limit further misrepresentation of the list. As I wrote in the Introduction to this series, it is "my intention to publicly go through the studies on this list one by one, explaining what they report, until such a time as it is well understood that the "Studies for GENERA" list does not demonstrate the human food safety of commercial GM food crops."
Mr Haro von Mogel linked to two reports where I had not had immediate access to the full text of the studies Arencibia (#16) and Asanuma (#17). Over two weeks ago I received the full text for Asanuma and put in an extensive update – it's a very interesting field of study. I haven't received the full text for Arencibia yet but when I do I will put in an update.
On the issues of duplications in the GENERA list, the first 20 entries comprised 13 + 1/3 studies (excluding #1) and 6 repeat abstracts (including #1). The "1/3" study refers to the selective entry of one part of a three part debate article (#12). A quick scan through the list shows many more repeats to come. To me it has the look of references having been extracted from studies or other lists and put onto the GENERA list before they've been reviewed. If this accurately reflects the conduct – no great harm, but it would suggest to me that rapid growth in the size of the list was regarded as being more important than integrity within. That would be an issue.
Mr Haro von Mogel entered into discussion on a study, Caine et al. (2007), which was #66 on the list on the day I extracted it. I am only up to #20. I had previously read the full text and will report on it in full when I get there, as I wrote on the report of Aalhus (#1), an abstract of the same study. I've left a clarifying update on that post in case this was unclear. I'm at a loss to understand how he drew the conclusions that he expressed in his 5th paragraph regarding my views on the study. They don't represent my understanding. He may like to clarify but otherwise I'll wait until writing the report on the study.
In his seventh paragraph regarding this list Mr Haro von Mogel asked an interesting question in reference to the Caine et al (2007) study (#66). I don't want to go into it in depth now because I have so many other studies in my mind. But from quick reminder view, this was a study which had reported significant differences between the pigs fed on diets containing canola material supplied by Monsanto compared with those whose diets contained commercial canolas, but not between the GM RR canola and the non-GM parental control supplied by Monsanto. I had given reference to a report I'd written a few years ago on the very surprising practices employed by Monsanto in the raising of canola and processing of the feed for trials, and did not feel entirely confident about the transferability and validity of the study findings, without knowing more. The abstract reported that the pigs fed on diets containing the GM and non-GM comparator feed supplied by Monsanto had significantly heavier livers, lower Daily Feed Intake and lower Average Daily Gain. The authors suggested this may have been related to the higher levels of antinutritional glucosinolates in the feed supplied by Monsanto. The GM RR canola glucosinolate levels (micro moles/g) was 20.20, the non-GM parent 15.04, and the two commercial varieties 7.55 and 7.46. I look at those numbers and ask the questions, "Why would Monsanto genetically engineer a parent variety with a high level of glucosinolates? Wouldn't they choose to use a host variety with the lowest possible level of antinutrients?" There's a story behind this that needs to be told, but it will wait till another day.
Mr Haro von Mogel asked
- "If the study had, in reverse, found that the pigs had enlarged or deformed organs, lower muscle mass, and altered metabolism as a result of eating GE canola, would Ms. Love still consider it to have no implications for human health?"
I think there's too much more to examine in detail in this study to imply that in this case there were no adverse findings, even on the simple meat production measurements that were taken along with measurement of some organ weights. Remembering that the pigs which were fed on the Monsanto-supplied feeds did suffer heavier liver weights, I nonetheless agree that if the pigs had failed to thrive to the point where the meat industry would reject the product, I would have said that the study had implications for human health. If a pig couldn't take it I think we'd give it a second glance before eating it. On the other hand, if a study showed that pigs survived to satisfactory slaughter weight, meat production, with typical organ weights (assuming it could be shown to be fair in respect of the feeds) this nonetheless is not a study that investigates the human food safety of GM foods. It would say that pigs grew satisfactorily while they ate it, during the particular short term study period until slaughter age. The meat industry might be satisfied, but it says very little about the short term human well-being and the long term human health of these products. In general, we are advised to seek long term, independent, detailed toxicological (and cancer) studies on relevant animals, and population epidemiological studies that quantify the relative risk of GM consumption. In the meantime people are calling for full labelling GM to allow those who wish to observe, to do so.
There is a pig feeding study on an experimental GM canola crop where the abstract reports that the GM fed pigs didn't do so well compared to the non-GM parent – lower weight gain and affected thyroids according to the Böhme et al 2007 (#45 on the list) The abstract seems to imply that the glucosinolates increased as a result of the GM transformation - I wonder if that could have happened with the Monsanto GM RR canola? Full text coming…
* Title was previously "The First 20 Studies, the Biofortified Response, and My Reply". It was an inconsistent terminology - oversight on my part.