Organ Failure? Organ Damage? Cancer?!?

If you have been paying attention to the blogosphere lately, you’ve heard about a study that came out in the International Journal of Biological Sciences called A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health, by Vendomois et al. It is a reanalysis of feeding trail data from Monsanto corn-fed rats. While its conclusions essentially call for “more research” because they claim to have found “signs of toxicity” they admit that they do not have proof of such toxicity.

But if you read the blog reports on the subject, the claims accelerate into the stratosphere from organ damage, to organ failure, even to CANCER! (Blog author removed cancer from the post without noting the mistake, but left it in the URL.) All of these descriptions are false even if you accept the conclusions of the paper. The only major news organization to pick up the story is Democracy Now, with a short, unbalanced mention in this program. None of the blogs or news reports declaring organ damage/failure/etc are mentioning that this study was funded in part by Greenpeace.

A few bloggers have responded to it, Andrew Moseman at Discover Blogs, and the Monsanto bloggers have posted a short response as well. The Australia and New Zealand regulatory agency FSANZ also has a response. It turns out that the authors have a little history of making mistakes with statistics with this same data set, there’s a lot of information about this with regard to their 2007 paper at the GMO Pundit (including some recent commentary).

We have received several emails already about it asking for input, and like all good analyses these things take time to put together. I’ve taken it upon myself to write up an analysis of the paper to post to the blog this weekend. I’m also interested to see what people with more experience in environmental toxicology have to say, and what the responses will be in the journal that published the paper, as well as elsewhere. Feel free to take a look at the paper and join in the discussion – as a topic has already started in the Forum, head on over there to add your thoughts!

Note: Comments on this post have now been enabled following my experiment in irrigating the forum. (4/29/2010)

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Karl earned his Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at UW-Madison, with a minor in Life Science Communication. His dissertation was on both the genetics of sweet corn and plant genetics outreach. He currently works as a Post Doctoral Research Associate for the USDA in Madison, WI. His favorite produce might just be squash.


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