Of Mice and Mon

February 24, 2009

Monsanto corn in miceOn Nov. 11, 2008, the Austrian Federal Ministry for Health, Family and Youth released a report on three studies assessing the impact of biotech corn containing Monsanto traits for herbicide tolerance (MON 810) and insect resistance (NK603). One study potentially showed a potential impact of a potential impact on reproduction. However, the study had not been peer reviewed–the most basic process in ensuring that scientific research is sound. One report author, Dr. Jurgen Zentec, said the studies showed inconsistent results and should be considered preliminary.

Despite the lack of peer review and the author’s warning, several anti-biotech organizations–most notably Greenpeace and the Center for Food Safety–issued statements within 48 hours of the report’s release citing the report as evidence supporting a need for drastic reforms in the regulation of biotech crops. Greenpeace even went so far as to call for the immediate recall of all genetically-modified (GM) crops and foods containing GM ingredients.

Subsequent reviews by Monsanto and independent scientists found significant flaws in the study–which seriously questions whether the study findings have any validity at all. A subsequent review by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Scientific Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) confirmed this assessment.

To quote EFSA’s report–“On the basis of the data presented, the GMO Panel is of the opinion that no conclusions can be drawn from the report.”

Organizations such as Greenpeace and CFS claim to have scientific expertise around GMOs. Yet with this particular report, they all showed a lack of understanding of the most basic elements of good science–peer review. And it’s not the first time they’ve done ignored basic science. Anti-biotech groups have cried wolf several times before when they based strong statements on preliminary data or studies that had yet to be adequately reviewed. The Monarch butterfly study is a perfect example.

The irony of all this is that the likes of Greenpeace and CFS claim that there is no good science supporting the safety or benefits of GMOs, despite a long list of peer reviewed studies. Further, the anti-GMO lobby is quick to demonize any organization that reviews GMOs favorably, and lavish praise on those that are critical. In somewhat comical contrast, Greenpeace has called for the dismantling of EFSA’s Panel on Genetically Modified Organisms, while CFS “applauds” ESFA for its position on cloned animals.

With each incident like the Austrian mouse study, the actions of groups such as CFS and Greenpeace bring into question whether such groups are more interested in sound science, or sound bytes.

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