That GMO-cancer study? It gets worse.

By Carl Zimmer | October 10, 2012 5:32 pm

Last month I blogged about the unsavory practices of French scientists who unveiled a study purporting to show that genetically modified corn and herbicide cause cancer in rats. Not only was the study weak, but the scientists required reporters to sign an oath of secrecy to see it in advance. As I explained to the NPR show On the Media, this strategy raised the odds that all those pesky questions about statistical significance from meddling outsiders would be absent from the first wave of reporting.

In Nature today, Declan Butler continues his great reporting on the affair, unearthing additional disturbing parts of the story. My favorite was this passage from the agreement that some reporters–incredibly–agreed to sign:

“A refund of the cost of the study of several million euros would be considered damages if the premature disclosure questioned the release of the study.”

Who knew that doing basic science reporting could land you catastrophically in debt? Well, aside from Simon Singh…

[Update: Link to Nature fixed]


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Comments (17)

  1. Mary

    Nice little newspaper ya got there….shame if anything happened to it….

  2. I blogged about it too here. I really tailored my presentation to the mostly scientifically illiterate anti-GMO people. The link is:

    I have a friend who is violently anti-GMO. This friend regularly pushes these types of papers, but (shockingly) refuses to admit the existence of papers that are supportive of GMOs.

    I found the Seralini paper particularly distasteful considering that Seralini has been censured for inappropriate statistical analyses before and another author is a homeopath.

  3. MarkB

    That activists masquerading as scientists should attempt such a manipulation of the media should be no surprise. That major media outlets should sign such a document is a grotesque violation of fundamental journalistic ethics.

  4. John Wagoner

    Its incredible that the methodology and ethics of Gilles-Eric Séralini et al appear to be the entire focus of attention. Meanwhile the possibility that Monsanto’s commercial products, which are secretly incorporated into our food supply, could pose a health risk has been blacked out from the mainstream media. Search for yourself. Only editorials critical of the research have been published. It seems economic interests have great influence on what is considered ‘ news ‘.

    It doesn’t bother you that these GMO products are secretly incorporated into prepared food ? What about the fact that Monsanto has withheld any access to the raw data and has done feeding test only lasting 90 days? I for one refuse to function as free Guinea pig for the Monsanto corporation.

    Since 70 per cent of the corn that is grown in the U.S. are Monsanto varieties, if your prepared corn product isn’t labeled Organic, Its GMO.

  5. Jon Pastor

    To John Wagoner: You say “GMO products are secretly incorporated into prepared food.” Yes, and HFCS is just as secretly incorporated into prepared food (hint: it’s not a secret if everyone knows it, just a fact; calling it a secret marks you as a conspiracy theorist, not a rational person). THEN you say “Only editorials critical of the research have been published. It seems economic interests have great influence on what is considered ‘ news ‘.” No, it’s that some “news” is no more news than all facts are secrets: “dog bites man” (“GMO products are known to be in prepared food”) is not news, while “man bites dog” (“sleazy French activist publishes fake research”) is.

  6. Mr. Anthony

    To further Jon Pastors excellent points, companies only give away their data when they get something in return (e.g. a Patent). The data disclosed in Patents can be reasonably assumed to be valid because they don’t want their patent invalidated.

    Data not given to the public in exchange for a patent is called a trade secret. And why do I have the feeling that even if they gave away their trade secrets for free (???) Wagoner would accuse them of fudging the numbers?

  7. David B. Benson
  8. John Wagoner

    Thanks for responding to my comments, as you give me another opportunity of voice an opinion.

    The idea that revealing the raw data of the Monsanto trials would somehow reveal a trade secret is pure nonsense. Third parties evaluate raw data all the time, sometimes with diametrically opposed results. Would you like an example ?

    Since the Monsanto corn is the ingredient for your cornflakes, and the box is not labeled as such, I think it is reasonable to characterize it as a secret ingredient. Monsanto and company certainly do no have the integrity to voluntarily label their products. Why ? All we are asking is for the right to know what is in our food. Why is that too much to ask ? If the foods made with the GMO are so great, they labeling will not be an issue, will it ?

  9. maja z

    @ John Wagoner:
    I may have reason to believe that only corn harvested under a full moon will have its negative energies removed and thereby made suitable for human consumption. (Hell, I might even test out the theory of “cancer-causing-negative-energies-expelled-by-mystical-full-moon-mechanism” on an insufficiently controlled trial using cancer prone rats.)

    Anyway: since my cornflakes contain corn not harvested under a full moon, and the box does not carry a label “may contain corn harvested during new/waxing/waning moon”, it is reasonable to characterize this as a secret ingredient. All I am asking is for the right to know what is in my food. If moon phases have no effect on the corn, then labelling should not be an issue, should it?

  10. Monkey

    I think what is important to remember when discussing this is the non-trivial distinction between human health and corporate greed. It is well known to all (most? or would that make it a secret?) that companies making GMO products like money, and that perhaps they will tack on restrictions and patents and all those gambits that keep them making money (terminator gene; although, this also has a very good upside but that is for another discussion I guess). But – and this is a huge but, like a whale or an obese hippopotamus but(t), the health effects argument is not an argument that can be stated against the corporation argument. My father does this with me all the time with vaccines – he is against, I am for them. When we argue the merits of vaccines, it starts out with the health issue, but then as soon as I trump his argument showing that the health benefits outweigh the increasingly negligible harms, he tosses out the “drug companies are bad people” argument. It has little to no relation, at least in the discussion. Do vaccines save lives…yes. Do vaccines cause autism…no. Are drug companies money hungry patent grabbing fiends….perhaps. A bad person with a good drug doesnt make the drug useless. It just means that you have to give a bad man your money. But you wont die. Or, to bring it back around, a significant portion of humanity gets to eat.

    My thoughts…

  11. Brad Sherwood

    Monkey, are you kidding me? You say that the vaccine or gmo product manufacturer’s character doesn’t matter? You are blind sir. That is PRECISELY the problem. They cannot be trusted. They’ve lied too many times about the safety of Vioxx, Plavix, Oxycontin, Risperdal, mixed up influenza virus batches, straight up lied about amalgam not off-gassing, the connection between dental health and heart health, thimerosal in vaccines, the benefits of formula back in the day, deceptive marketing practices including promoting off-label uses not approved by the FDA, and my “favourite”, early aspartame studies revealing holes in the brains of mice – the very product that one of the slimiest characters in drug and political history, Donald Rumsfeld had a large hand in promoting. But let’s just say for the moment that gmos are completely safe. So then why is it reported that high profile people are avoiding gmos like the plague while publicly touting their safety. Shame on you scientists. And you wonder why you’re losing the battle of trust with the public. And by the way, you’re father is right.

  12. Monkey

    @Brad – you missed my point, but did it with passion. Ill give you that. And out of curiosity, who are “you scientists”?

    You need to distance the people making discoveries, ie doing the science, from those trying to sell something. It is tough – I completely agree that drug companies are bad people overall – but to jump on a conspiratorial bandwagon regarding the outright lack of worth in all things ‘science’ is absolutely ridiculous.

    Lets focus on one – autism and vaccines. Your turn.

  13. Glenn

    Just a thought. Drug companies ARE NOT PEOPLE. Corporations are human constructs made up -of- people, but they themselves are no more people, and for much the same reasons, that you or I are not a fingernail clipping or red blood cell. What’s good for a human might not be good for some bit of fingernail when you trim them. Red blood cells may very much not “like” being sucked out for some blood test to make the human healthy. Different scales, different rules.

    Unlike fingernail clippings and red blood cells, we can compel the meta-organism to change it’s behavior. But don’t call a corporation evil for doing what it’s (currently) -supposed- to do, to wit, make a profit for its investors, and have money to expand itself/it’s projects.

    That said, I am quite dismayed by how some of my fellow cells are going about trying to change that behavior. Bogus studies and propaganda scare techniques are a poor substitute for rational discourse and reasoned debate.

  14. I think it is a good thing that California voters will likely pass prop 37 in spite of the millions of dollars that Monsanto and pesticide manufacturers are spending in opposition advertising.

    I like to know what is in the stuff I buy to eat. I read the labels, and expect that they are intended to portray an accurate tally of the ingredients. GMO’s should not be an exception to truth in labeling.


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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.


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