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.
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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.