I was vacationing in France in September when the main
newsmagazine there "broke" the story that a Prof.
Seralini at Caen University had proven that GMOs (genetically
modified organisms) are "poison." Posters of the magazine
cover with its screaming headline were everywhere on billboards and
on subway walls. I was reading the magazine on the train to Caen
(en route to visiting Juno Beach where the Canadians landed on
D-Day) when the young woman sitting beside me noted proudly that it
was a professor from her university that had finally proven what
Europeans had long believed: that big bad American biotech
companies were producing food products that were unsafe. "This
science confirms my conviction," she said.
This is the story of GM food in Europe. "Science" that
supports a belief more deeply entrenches the public conviction.
Confirmation bias is always a problem, especially when the science
Seralini's study concluded that rats fed corn genetically
modified for herbicide resistance with or without Monsanto's
Roundup herbicide developed tumours, contradicting the conclusions
of hundreds of studies that have consistently found no safety
issues. Leading scientists from around the world quickly identified
more than a dozen serious problems with the study, including the
use of tumour-prone rodents, the small sample size, and the
selective presentation of data.
The European Food Safety Authority, traditionally no friend to
the biotech industry, severely criticized the study, concluding
that it was "of insufficient scientific quality to be
considered as valid for risk assessment." In a rare joint
statement, even the six leading French academies issued an
unequivocal condemnation describing the study as a "scientific
non-event...that does not enable any reliable conclusion to be
drawn." Then the French food safety authority ANSES concluded
that the study was fundamentally flawed, as did the German,
Brazilian, American, New Zealand and Australian authorities. Health
Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency reviewed
Seralini's research and concluded that it had "significant
shortcomings in the study design, implementation and
I'm just an old lawyer with my own biases and not able to
fully judge the science, but such unanimity of science criticism is
rare. Moreover, Seralini's tightly orchestrated media offensive
that included the simultaneous release of a book and film about his
work, combined with his failure to release his basic data for peer
review, clearly suggests that he had an ulterior agenda beyond the
search for the truth.
Predictably, Canadian media were quick to uncritically report
the Seralini results. Dr. Oz featured the rat study on his popular
television show. Organic true believers and other anti-GM activists
gleefully piled on. The facts did not get in the way of their
convictions. Biotech crops have undergone more safety and
environmental testing than any crop varieties in history. They have
been proven as safe as the scientific method permits, by every
valid method known to science and medicine. There is not a single
solitary confirmed case of human or animal disease. After more than
a trillion meals containing biotech-derived ingredients, there
hasn't been a single tummy ache, sore throat or rash. This is
why Canadian farmers, recognizing their many environmental and
economic benefits, confidently choose GM for 95 per cent of the
canola they plant, 90 per cent of the corn, and 80 per cent of
As long as Europeans are willing to pay the environmental and
economic costs of their ideological aversion to GM crops, they will
continue to maintain their moratorium on importing GM food (though,
hypocritically, accepting our GM animal feed). The saddest part of
this sorry tale was to read that because of Seralini, the Kenyan
government, against the advice of its own scientists, announced a
ban on GM imports, further exacerbating its shortage of corn.
Millions of Africans will still go to bed hungry.
L'affaire Seralini is yet another example of what Nietzsche
has taught us: "Convictions are more dangerous enemies to
truth than lies."
This article originally appeared in the January/February
2013 issue of Food in Canada and is republished with the
permission of the publisher.
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