Announcing the launch of the GENERA beta test

posted in: News, Updates | 35

We are proud to announce the launch of the new GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas (GENERA) website and the public beta test of our system. Today, for the first time ever, the public will be able to see what we have been working on for so long. Check out our press release and let us know what you think about the new GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas! In addition, scroll to the bottom to see infographics made by the Genetic Literacy Project to illustrate some of the important preliminary findings of the GENERA project.

Press Release (PDF)

New resource shows half of GMO research is independent

Those who follow the issue of genetically engineered crops have heard claims that there is little independent research on their safety for consumption or the environment. A new public database of research tells a different story. The resource is the GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas (GENERA), and it goes public on 25 August 2014. The results show that independent peer-reviewed research on GMOs is common, conducted worldwide, and makes up half of the total of all research on risks associated with genetic engineering.

GENERA is a searchable database of peer-reviewed scientific studies on the relative risks of genetically engineered crops. The database includes important details at-a-glance to help people find and learn about the science of GMOs. GENERA has now entered its beta-testing phase with the first 400 out of over 1,200 studies that have been curated.

GENERA is a project of Biology Fortified, Inc. (BFI), an independent tax-exempt non-profit. The mission of BFI is to strengthen the public discussion of issues in biology, with particular emphasis on genetics and genetic engineering in agriculture. Founded in 2008 as a scientist-run information resource and public forum, Biology Fortified does not accept funding from industry sources, and is instead funded by the contributions of readers and grants.

Dr. Karl Haro von Mogel, Chair and co-Director of BFI, said that people are looking for independent information about GMOs. “People are looking for sources that they can trust that can help them find unbiased information about genetic engineering, but in a politically-charged debate, unbiased sources are difficult to find. We’ve been recognized for our independent expertise on this subject, so it was only natural that we should take a project like this on.”

GENERA started as a list of studies to show people how much research has been conducted on GMOs, however the members of BFI quickly recognized that something better was needed. To begin work on GENERA, BFI was awarded a peer-reviewed grant from the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) Educational Foundation in 2012. The Atlas was developed during 2013 and 2014. BFI enlisted the help of a team of awesome volunteers who tracked down and entered the details of hundreds of studies into the Atlas.

Journalists, scientists, public officials, and anyone else can use GENERA to search for research on the effectiveness of using genetic engineering to modify the genetics of plants, and can find studies that compare GMOs to non-GMOs to see if they are equivalent. Studies conducted on the safety of consuming genetically engineered foods and their impacts on the environment are also included in the Atlas.

“We’ve made it really easy for people to find the information they are looking for in the Atlas,” said Dr. Anastasia Bodnar, co-Director of BFI. “Every study has a page that tells you all about who did the research and in what countries, what crops and traits were studied, and who funded it.” Each study page also posts the results of the research, said Dr. Bodnar. “We read the studies so you don’t have to – and we have links to the studies so you can read them if you want to!”

GENERA also offers users a unique opportunity to look at the results of hundreds of studies at once with a built-in chart feature. After doing a search, users can turn that search into a chart of the selected studies to look at their results, funding sources, or almost any other attribute they want.

“We are really proud of the chart feature,” said Dr. Haro von Mogel. “If you want to know anything what animals GMOs were fed to, or what kinds of traits are being studied in different countries, you can do that instantly. This lets you look at the big picture and answer your own questions about what research is out there like never before.” The site currently includes two tutorials and a glossary of terms to help visitors learn how to use these features.

The team at BFI is already seeing patterns in the research. Out of the first 400 randomly-selected studies available in the GENERA beta test, half of them are funded entirely by government agencies and independent nonprofit organizations. Before the project began, rough estimates placed them at just a third of the research. And the government-funded research is worldwide in scope – concentrated in Europe and Asia, followed by North America and Australia. These findings should turn the heads of people who thought it was skewed to private, U.S.-based laboratories.

“Not all of our results are surprising,” said Dr. Bodnar. “Systematic reviews have concluded that genetically engineered crops are safe to eat, and when you look at the results collected in GENERA, it agrees with that conclusion.”

The Atlas is a work-in-progress, and BFI needs help to complete the project. Anyone can volunteer to help the project – you do not have to be a scientist to make a valuable contribution. Tax-deductible donations will help fund the maintenance and development of the Atlas. Even just trying out the resource and answering a brief survey will be a big help to the project.

Visit the GENERA website at or follow @GENERA_news on twitter for updates about this exciting project.

Media Contact:

Karl Haro von Mogel, Ph.D.

Chair, co-Director, Biology Fortified, Inc.

(608) 284-8842

Images (created by the Genetic Literacy Project):

Map of government-funded GMO studies around the world (jpg | PDF with links)


The scientific literature on the safety of GMOs for consumption (jpg | PDF with links)


  • Eric Bjerregaard

    How could you possibly claim that half of the research is independent when everyone knows that the necessary safety research that wasn’t done was paid for by Monsanto. and approved by exMonsanto employees. None of whom carry a grudge or the slightest hint of bitterness toward Monsanto. Glad to see you are accomplishing your goals. Your pic looks a bit more cheerful.

    • Karl Haro von Mogel

      Yes, the research that doesn’t exist but is published was bought and paid for. It is funny sometimes the twisted webs that some people weave.

  • MaryM

    Yay! Data! Testing! My favorite things. I shall be delighted to kick the tires soon.

    Congratulations on wrangling these plants–it was really needed.

  • Joni Kamiya

    Hooray!!! What a feat that will help so many others get the facts!!!

  • Dylan

    That one purple guy is in lots of trouble…

    • Karl Haro von Mogel

      That was actually an industry-funded study here in Madison, WI, that looked at a brazil nut protein transformed into a soybean. If they worked at a company I ran, they would be lauded for saving the company from making a mistake. The company would then proudly proclaim that our testing protocols work for screening out potential problems. It is a narrow view that says that companies can only reach one conclusion.

  • Adam Who

    I am glad to see this work. I suspect we are comrades battling the anti-science of the internet.

  • Mlema

    I fail to see the relevance to “safety for human consumption” of this sort of exercise. These are all different kinds of studies on all different kinds of organisms. It could very well be that the studies most important to making a comparison between conventional and GMO with regards to human consumption are the ones that say GMO is better than, or worse than. If the study is about whether chickens eating GM soy maintain weight, I’d say that’s pretty much irrelevant. But I seriously doubt these studies are all feeding trials anyway. But who’s got time to look at each of these studies to see whether they mean anything at all to the average consumer deciding whether or not they should avoid GM sweet corn or eggplant, or one who may also be concerned about the environment? We’re supposed to take your word for it – GMOs are great in every way, and they are never not great, because: look at these colored balls!

    If industry advocates want to promote consumer confidence, they should provide evidence of well-controlled, repeated and relevant feeding trials of the actual food they want people to eat. Although it’s very possible that people can, for instance, eat all the bt toxins that will fit in their intestines without ill effect, bt food isn’t substantially equivalent to non-bt food. Why can’t we do feeding trials?

    • Anastasia Bodnar

      Hi Mlema, this is a press release. A short summary designed to inform briefly about a complex topic. See all of those links? That’s where you’ll find more information.

      The whole point of GENERA is that you won’t have to read all of the studies yourself (although you can if you want). You can use GENERA’s search tool to get an overview of the literature. Sure, an infographic doesn’t show all of the complexity… but it’s an infographic. Maybe go look at GENERA and then tell us what you think – and we’ve provided info as to how you can provide feedback about GENERA above (there’s a survey).

      Why do we study animals rather than humans when it comes to GMOs and so many other things? There’s a lot of reasons and many are included in this discussion:

  • Mlema

    Not sure what make you think I was calling for human trials. I’ve spent time looking at GENERA. What dismays me is the attempt to label studies in the way that biofortified has: positive, negative, mixed, no effect. Almost every article I looked at had a problem with either how it was characterized, or how it was categorized. A letter to the editor is classified as a peer-reviewed journal article, for example. I have e-mailed a few I had the time to message about. But I can’t go through 400 articles to note these problems.

    It’s great to pull studies specifically pertaining to GMOs – and it’s a profound public service to categorize them in various ways: organisms, traits, feeding trials on rats, etc. But GENERA has overstepped in claiming to interpret these studies or articles based on how they reflect on GM technology – like safety for consumption. And what does random mean in this context? Unless a computer pulled these studies, they’re not random. And if they are random, what is the value?

    I would suggest that people interested in exploring, for example, the safety of GM foods for human consumption search for themselves: meta-reviews on feeding trials. They won’t have a lot of reading to do, since there are only a handful. And they can eliminate all those that are simply about feeding cows, pigs, chickens, fish and checking their weight. They can look at the references for the reviews to find the actual feeding trials using rats, good controls, etc. Now they can look for bt food evaluations, and they will have winnowed down their reading to a brief bit. And from that, they will have to decide whether or not they’re comfortable eating bt sweet corn or eggplant – which is pretty much the extent of concern right now as far as toxicity or allergenicity in our diets from GM foods. IMHO.

    I think biofortified ought to tell GLP not to send that graphic around. We don’t have 197 studies on the safety of eating GMOs. I’d like to have somebody show me more than 5 studies on rats eating bt food. And more than 3 that are non-industry funded. And since even the studies available aren’t the foods that humans would be eating, well – again – where are the feeding trials on the bt food that the industry wants people to feel confident in eatng?

    Sorry, but I think displaying and publicizing GENERA in this way is an abuse of the literature. Your diligent and difficult work will end up discredited as people start to take the database apart, look at what the research is saying and how it’s portrayed. But then again, who’s got the time?

    • Anastasia Bodnar

      I guess I misunderstood your precious comment but it sure sounded like you were calling for human feeding trials. My apologies if that is not the case. There seems to be a little flurry of misunderstandings going on… Hopefully I can help clear things up.

      The positive, negative, mixed, no effect labels indicate the conclusions that the authors of the study made – we do not make any conclusions ourselves. In some cases it is possible that the authors’ conclusion may not be accurate based on the evidence they provide. But we decided that providing our own conclusions would 1) be so time consuming that we wouldn’t be able to create GENERA and more importantly 2) potentially introduce bias. The beauty of GENERA is that anyone can look at the studies themselves if they feel the basic information provided in GENERA isn’t enough. If you feel any studies have been inaccurately characterized, then please use the proper channels detailed on the GENERA website. If everyone pitches in then we can make this a more useful resource together.

      There are definitely no letters to the editor in GENERA. Some peer reviewed scientific journal articles are called letters but they are still peer reviewed – this used to confuse me, too.

      The 400 studies were randomly chosen from the 1600 we have in the database. Why? Because you have to start somewhere. The goal is to include all relevant studies. What’s included? We have a page on the GENERA website that explains:

      Reviews and meta analyses are great. However, depending on the authors, these collections of literature can be biased. You can cherry pick the articles to include, misunderstand the conclusions, and so on. GENERA lets the original conclusions of the authors stand (as I mentioned earlier in this comment) and makes it easy for people to find studies relevant to their interests. Like any tool, it’s all in how you use it. One thing that will be added in the future is links to analyses of the studies by external sources so people can get those additional viewpoints too.

      Feeding studies that look at the weight of the animals are absolutely useful to determining safety for consumption. It’s nice to have finer measurements as well but those often can be hard to interpret, and the studies that test a ton of things often have statistical issues. If an animal is fed a diet comprised mostly or entirely of a gmo and that gmo could cause any major health issues then you will see that reflected in the weight and overall health of the animals. Using different species, including birds and mammals and more, helps confirm problems or lack thereof in different biological systems. To put it another way: no species is a perfect analog for human physiology so looking at multiple species can help.

      In addition, researchers are always looking to see if their present research could be expanded into another experiment. While they may not be taking measurements, they are looking at animal behavior and other physiological responses throughout the experiment. If anything looks interesting they will design another study to look at it. For example, if the experimental group maintains weight but all start getting a mild illness then that result will likely be noted in the weight test study then there will be another study to test the illness either by the same research group or another group. This is how science builds one study upon another so we can start getting an overall picture.

      You are correct that some of the studies in GENERA aren’t on the foods that are available on the market for humans to eat. People often make claims that “gmos are dangerous” classifying all gmo traits together. With GENERA you can see that this is not true for all gmos grouped together.

      As for individual traits, a future version of GENERA will include additional information about the trait so it will be easy to pull out only those studies on Mon810 for example. This is the beta test after all, so if there are other types of info you’d like to see, feel free to use the survey to tell us.

      • Mlema

        Thanks for your reply. Apparently I’m not clearly expressing myself so I’ll try again. Most gmos on the fields right now are destined for animal feed, biofuel or processed food ingredients like oils, starch, sugars. Etc. so there has been research to determine whether those crops will effect meat production or provide equivalent non-protein ingredients. Now there is beginning to be direct human consumption of some foods like crops with cry toxins. There are reasons to be concerned about this.
        So people might want to know what the research says about these gmo in particular, because all gmos are different. Different traits, species, methods of modification, etc. When people come here for info, they will get an info graphic that says we have hundred of studies showing gmos are safe.
        There are lots of theories why these foods should be safe, and why regulations are believed to be sufficient. But the fact remains, if we’re introducing a food staple like bt corn or eggplant into human consumption, we ought to have some appropriate feeding trials, open to scrutiny.
        So, this has less and less to do with genera specifically, but I am just attempting to be clear, so I must be thorough. I believe that biofortifieds attempts to characterize scientific authors’ work as reflecting on gmo safety as positive, negative, etc. leads to an unscientific assessment of the literature. And in looking at a couple dozen articles, I think that this well-meant attempt to “read the science so you don’t have to” shows bias in the way it’s categorized these articles.
        Of course there’s also the possibility that rather than serving as a public resource, this “sorting” of the literature will become just one more tool of various kinds of public relations rhetoric. Because every time we move away from the real nitty-gritty of the science and try to make generalizations about something that’s not homogeneous in any way, shape or form, we risk error. And error can be exploited. And that breeds distrust. Then the whole education and communication thing goes out the window.

        • Anastasia Bodnar

          As I said above, people often make claims that “gmos are dangerous” classifying all gmo traits together. With GENERA you can see that this is not true for all gmos grouped together. Many anti gmo organizations are lumping all gmos together, and I’ve seen many claim it’s the technology itself that supposedly introduces unknown problems. All of the studies in GENERA together tell us about the technology in general.

          Visitors can use the search functions to pull out individual crop-trait combinations if they’d like to look at a specific crop-trait combo. Obviously if there’s a crop-trait combination that’s not well represented in GENERA then you won’t have that specific info until the studies are added. I’m sorry but I don’t see how this isn’t clear. As I said above, an infographic doesn’t show all of the complexity… but it’s an infographic. GENERA isn’t an infographic, it’s a database.

          As for the classification of results, I said above that the positive, negative, mixed, no effect labels (see definitions here) indicate the conclusions that the authors of the study made – we do not make any conclusions ourselves, so we can not insert bias. The conclusions of a study only apply within the scope of the study such that if a study is on environmental risks of protein enhanced cassava, then that study has limited usefulness for determining the food safety risks of herbicide tolerant soy. But both together contribute to this overall picture of the risks of the technology (if the technology overall caused some unknown risk then we’d see that reflected in a variety of crops. If someone thinks they can learn about food safety risks of herbicide tolerant soy though a study on environmental risks of protein enhanced cassava, I don’t think that’s GENERA’s fault.

          I really feel that you’re not reading my comments, which is frustrating. I had already addressed most of your concerns in previous comments. I feel like you are so convinced that GENERA is some sort of trick that you’re not even looking at it. Well, it’s not a trick. If you see problems and want to help, that’s great. We’re all unpaid volunteers with full time jobs and lives to lead so surely this isn’t as polished as it could be if we were some big million dollar group with full time paid employees.

          • Mlema

            Anastasia, I’m reading your comments. I think because this is being discussed on two pages it may seem like I’m not. So I’ll always read both pages before I reply.

            Here’s what troubles me – the site claims to have a goal of educating the public about science, especially agricultural GMOs – about which there’s a lot of misunderstanding and negative, unscientific misinformation) But, the site has purposefully chosen to display a graphic which clearly implies that there are nearly 200 studies which show that GMOs are safe 2 eat. In reality, there may be a few such studies – and those studies aren’t on GMOs that we’re actually eating as whole food.

            “we do not make any conclusions ourselves, so we can not insert bias. ”

            You are making conclusions about how to characterize what the authors are saying, and, imo, you’re misinterpreting them often enough to be troubling. It’s fine to categorize studies based on where, who, what, etc. But when you overlay your own interpretation as to how these various studies reflect on GMOs as a homogeneous group (which, again, they are not) – you’re doing more than educating the public. You’re adding a spin. And the spin appears to be pro-GMO. There shouldn’t be “pro” and “anti” in education. If true to your mission, I should expect we would see detailed lessons on how transgenics are created, all the different methods, the relative risks of various crossings, how they’re evaluated, what the environmental questions are, etc. etc. etc.. Instead we get generalizations and the overall feeling that we ought to just skip the analysis and listen to your message: GMOs are safe to eat and beneficial to the environment. There are no serious questions, only a few outlier scientists. And whenever the social or political context in which GMOs exist are examined – it’s always about defending industry interests. Is it really true that there are no problems caused by the profit motive in the application of this technology? No question about the safety of people in Bangledesh eating bt eggplant, for instance? No. All is well with regulation in every country where the GMOs are growing, and we’ve been eating GMOs for decades. This is misleading.

            I don’t enjoy what’s starting to feel like confrontation. I think you, and all the scientists here at biofortified are excellent communicators and obviously extremely intelligent. I’m just encouraging you to examine your endeavor here with indifferent eyes, and consider that the picture you’re painting of agricultural GMOs isn’t nuanced enough to serve public education – which should be as close to unbiased as it can be.

            I do perhaps lean against these particular applications of the technology because what i see is that those which are most debated by the public pose as of yet unanswered questions. And since I don’t have to defend or promote the applications I find beneficial and worth the concomitant risk, I don’t feel compelled to comment on those (medical applications, for example) But I’m not running a web site that’s supposed to be educating the public. I hope this criticism will be accepted in the spirit in which it’s intended. I think I get frustrated and angry because I know you guys are smarter than I am – but I still think you’re not playing it straight with some of this stuff. GENERA is being used in a partisan way. You complain about anti-GMO.

            “Many anti gmo organizations are lumping all gmos together, and I’ve seen many claim it’s the technology itself that supposedly introduces unknown problems. All of the studies in GENERA together tell us about the technology in general.”

            There’s very little that can scientifically be said about ALL GMOs lumped together. That’s why anti-gmos are considered pseudoscientfic. Do you want GENERA to be thought of that way too? I think you’re starting down the wrong path with the infographic on safety.

  • Mlema

    “You are correct that some of the studies in GENERA aren’t on the foods that are available on the market for humans to eat. People often make claims that “gmos are dangerous” classifying all gmo traits together. With GENERA you can see that this is not true for all gmos grouped together.”

    I can’t find one study on any GMO food that people are eating. Maybe I’m missing them somehow. But wouldn’t a study that shows that GMOs are safe to eat be a feeding trial with an appropriate species and the actual food being evaluated? I’ve looked for bt sweet corn and bt eggplant and I find nothing.

    I understand you’re trying to make some generalizations with the safety graphic. But if NONE of the 197 studies are on any GMO foods that we’re actually eating, and none of them are using methods that would be relevant to human safety – how can you generalize that GMOs are safe to eat? If the consensus is something like “there’s no evidence that in all the years that grass has been growing that anyone has been harmed by eating it” what is the value of that consensus?

    • Karl Haro von Mogel

      I can’t find one study on any GMO food that people are eating.

      This is not a problem with the studies that have been included per se. If you are looking for the Syngenta Bt sweet corn then you should search for the details of the event itself – namely “Bt11”. Although we have not implemented the event name category for all studies, you can often find these studies by searching with the default fields for relevant terms. When I search for this term in GENERA I get 6 studies, and all 5 that were relevant for consumption had no effect observed. Since sweet corn and field corn are both maize – the traits that are present in one can and have been bred into the other.
      Thank you for letting us know that you were unable to find the information you were looking for – this helps us figure out how to improve the Atlas to reduce the instances of the common errors and misunderstandings that people will make.

      • Mlema

        I’d looked at all the bt studies. That’s why I said I couldn’t find one study on any GMO food that people are eating. Are you saying that you believe 5 of the 6 studies that come up under Bt11 are relevant for human consumption of the GM foods now available on supermarket shelves or in open air markets overseas? (namely, RR/bt sweet corn – 3 varieties from Monsanto, or bt eggplant from Mahyco (Monsanto)

        Again, there are NOT 197 studies that assess the safety of eating any GMO. It’s ridiculous to look at the research that way. Especially when there are NO studies on any GMO that we’re eating as a whole food on our dinner plates. You’re pushing studies that weigh dead chickens and pigs that ate GM food and compare them to those that ate non-GM food into the category of safety for human consumption. I understand that these studies have some relevance. But by no stretch can you say these are safety trials for human consumption.

        And this isn’t even to suggest that it’s a problem to eat RR/bt sweet corn. I’m just saying that you’re suggesting that there are hundreds of studies which show it’s basically ok to eat any GM food. It’s just not true. We have very few pertinent feeding trials on any GM human food.

        • Mlema

          ps – I don’t mean human safety trials. I mean feeding studies done on appropriate species that examine parameters important to human health.

        • Karl Haro von Mogel

          I’m not sure if you understand that you can sort and search based on the different species that the GMOs are tested on? The whole idea is that people can broaden or restrict their searches to look at the literature in different ways. Considering that this is only the first ~1/3 of the studies that we have already in our library, I think it would be premature of you to say that no suitable studies in existence.
          “I’m just saying that you’re suggesting that there are hundreds of studies which show it’s basically ok to eat any GM food.”
          We have not said this, you are changing our words to mean something different. But thank you for showing us another way that people may misconstrue our communication to arrive at new misunderstandings.

          • Mlema

            “‘I’m just saying that you’re suggesting that there are hundreds of studies which show it’s basically ok to eat any GM food.’
            We have not said this, you are changing our words to mean something different. But thank you for showing us another way that people may misconstrue our communication to arrive at new misunderstandings.”

            The graphic is entitled: “The scientific literature on GMO safety for human consumption – Are GMOs safe to eat and is the research only funded by the industry?” And the inset says: “Data from the GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas (GENERA), showing 197 peer-reviewed scientific studies that address the safety of genetically engineered foods out of 400 randomly selected for the beta release of the Atlas.”

            Do you stand behind these statements? You’ve called GENERA a “risk atlas”. Do you stand behind this collection of studies as a “risk atlas”? Do you believe this is a scientific analysis of the literature as it reflects on risk with regards to GMOs? Are these 197 studies referred to above all on GMO “safety for human consumption” as indicated by the graphic and by your category labels? are all of these 197 studies actually peer-reviewed as indicated by the graphic?

            You’re haven’t addressed what i’m saying. I’m talking about your labels: the categories and characterizations on safety, equivalence, etc. The positive, negative, etc. I’m not talking about species. I’ve already explained that those sorts of labels (species, author, funding, etc) are helpful and objective. You’re adding a subjective layer which makes GENERA unscientific. And you’re making gargantuan claims about what GENERA is by calling it a risk atlas.

            • Karl Haro von Mogel

              I am being precise with my words. You said “it’s basically ok to eat any GM food.” This is what we did not say. You are spending a lot of words attacking our effort based on miscommunication with so few.

              • Mlema

                I’m being precise with my words too. The graphic says there are “197 peer-reviewed scientific studies that address the safety of genetically engineered foods”, and that the vast majority of those either say GM foods are “Healthier or safer than conventional” or “no different than conventional”. Is this what biofortified is saying that the GENERA collection indicates? That there are 197 peer-reviewed studies that indicate that GM food is healthier or safer, or no different than conventional, except for about 25 that are inconclusive or negative? This is a yes or no question.

                • Karl Haro von Mogel

                  No I don’t think you are being very precise, because you are equivocating between a statement about the results of a collection of studies to mean the same thing as a statement that “any” GM food is safe to eat.
                  I think that you disagree with the tentative conclusion based on this subset of studies, and you’re reaching with this criticism.

                  • Mlema

                    I’ve given you criticism. You think I’m reaching. So now I’m just asking you if the graphic on this page is accurate.

                    There’s a graphic on this page. Its title is:
                    “The Scientific Literature on GMO safety for human consumption.”
                    It shows bubbles with numbers in them that indicate there are 172 peer-reviewed studies that indicate that GM foods are healthier or safer than conventional, or are no different than conventional.
                    The inset on the graphic describes the visual as showing:
                    “data from the GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas (GENERA), showing 197 peer-reviewed scientific studies that address the safety of genetically engineered foods out of 400 randomly selected for the beta release of the Atlas”

                    So, again, is this graphic accurate? Do you stand behind it’s portrayal of what GENERA is showing? Are there 197 peer-reviewed studies on GMO safety for human consumption? Is GENERA a risk review?

  • Mlema

    For instance – there are articles that have nothing to do with safety for consumption (like environmental studies) that are characterized as “no effect” with regards to human safety. Those studies show up in the large bubbles under “no difference than conventional” – giving the impression that there’s quite a bit of research on safety for consumption that shows no difference from conventional. But effects on non-target insects don’t reflect on safety for human consumption.

    Maybe you need to assign an outside party to label these studies if you must label them as “postive, no effect, etc.” My own preference (for what that’s worth) is: drop the “characterization” labels and stick with those that are meaningful to understanding the literature: trait, species, funding, etc.

    Thanks. I really do like GENERA just for looking at stuff. How awesome will it be if it can someday be a comprehensive database?

    • Karl Haro von Mogel

      If an article that was mainly about non-target effects on insects but also made conclusions (not just speculations) about human or animal health then we coded its outcome in that area as well. Some review studies show up in multiple categories because they reviewed several categories. Instead of hand-waving about studies and not naming them, please feel free to submit corrections via the official channel, or discuss specific studies in the space we have created for this in the forum.

      My own preference (for what that’s worth) is: drop the “characterization” labels and stick with those that are meaningful to understanding the literature: trait, species, funding, etc.

      You are free to overlook the recorded outcomes and look at the other characteristics, but the point is that they help many people understand the literature and the outside source is the inevitable crowdsourcing and review that users of GENERA will provide to strengthen it, as you have. We also included many other things that not everyone will care about, such as automatic citations, links to outside analyses, and publication history.
      I’m glad that you are finding it useful.

  • Mlema

    This isn’t about the recorded outcomes. Those are what the authors of the studies have written. This is instead about how someone at GENERA has decided what the recorded outcomes mean with regards to GMOs as a monolithic and homogeneous entity, which they are not.

    There are NOT 197 studies on safety for human consumption. This is just flat out wrong. And the further division into “positive, negative, etc” just adds to the inaccurate portrayal of this group of studies, because the individual characterizations of the studies are also wrong.

    GENERA will only be useful if this overlay of unscientific assessments is removed. You’ve managed to collect a large number of studies and sort them in various useful ways: author, organism, trait, etc. Don’t muck it up by trying to make the studies mean these different things that you want them to mean. GMO is too heterogeneous of a thing to apply this sort of characterization to any given study. Unless you can grow your team to include medical doctors, toxicologists, statisticians, epidemiologists, etc. – you’re not going to be able to evaluate this body of literature in this way. Even meta-studies (as you’ve said elsewhere) don’t necessarily accurately reflect what the literature is actually saying.

    Please, back up a bit and start with just the literature and your unbiased sorting by author, organism, trait, funding, etc. Remove the personal value judgements on how what the authors are saying reflects on GMOs as a whole – at least until you can recruit more varied knowledge into that assessment. That way GENERA will become extremely useful as a tool to tell us: just how much research do we have on x, or y or z.

    • Karl Haro von Mogel

      “GENERA will only be useful if this overlay of unscientific assessments is removed.”
      I really only need to say this once. We have created a metric by which the study outcomes are measured, which condenses a lot of data into very small categorical outcomes. There will always be shortcomings to this kind of approach as it does not capture the nuances within each study, however this is a very common thing to do when comparing information from very different kinds of studies on the same topic. It is in no way unscientific. It allows people to look at the bigger picture before delving into the details.
      As has been said, we are not evaluating the data itself – but coding the statements made in the abstract, discussion/conclusion by the authors themselves. This is about coding their stated conclusions, not re-interpreting the evidence presented in the studies.
      Again, thank you for giving us more perspective on the kinds of misunderstandings that people are likely to have when approaching GENERA for the first time.

  • Mlema

    In the interest of transparency, it would be great if you would share the metrics you used to decide how to characterize these studies. For instance, how did you determine when a study would be categorized as reflecting on human safety? Then, what would the authors have said, or not said, that would cause you to further characterize a study on human safety as having “no effect”? I think if people are going to be sorting and charting based on the results of your metrics, we ought to have some idea how they work. That is, if this is scientific (you’ve said it’s not unscientific), then anyone ought to be able to determine how to apply these various category and character labels by following the formulas you’ve set up. I know you’re not re-interpreting the data, but you seem to be drawing your own conclusions about how the authors’ work reflects on GMOs. There are very few studies that actually make any conclusions about GMOs as a whole. So, right there you’re doing your own interpretation.

    I think if you asked the author of any of the broiler chicken feeding studies if their work reflected on safety for human consumption, he’d probably say it’s safe to eat the chickens. I seriously doubt he would say you could rightly categorize his study as reflecting on the safety of GMOs for human consumption. And likewise, he would doubtfully, in addition, say “no effect”. The first category has to be applicable before the characterization can be applied.

    You’ve got a pig feeding study that says Cry1Ab protein isn’t totally degraded in the pig intestines, but this is labelled as no effect under safety for human consumption. There’s really no way to infer from that study that GMOs have no effect on safety for human consumption. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. It’s just not a study that’s appropriately labelled that way. And it’s these sort of studies (or even less relevant ones) that make up the vast majority of the 197 so-called safety studies for human consumption.

    And, you’re welcome for the added perspective. But I fail to see what you think I’m misunderstanding. I’m trying to impress upon you the that your qualitative labeling of the articles in GENERA is a detraction from what might otherwise be a valuable source of information.

    • Karl Haro von Mogel

      The coding of each study follows the metric that we have outlined on our glossary of terms page. I see your point about the criteria for deciding if a study would be rated in one category or another. I thought it was pretty simple in that the study authors made conclusions in each of those specific areas, but I see that we can better explain those details in the about pages.

      As for your claims regarding specific studies and their outcomes, without providing any links to them you are making claims without providing others the means to evaluate them yourself. In any case, this blog post is not the appropriate place to discuss the details of specific studies, for that we are directing people to the forum. You may start a topic there if you wish.

  • Mlema

    Thank you. I purposefully didn’t post a list of the studies I’ve looked at for that very reason. I’m really just trying to communicate that these studies can’t be assessed in that way (positive, negative, mixed, no effect, and on various topics often unrelated to the study – and all on how they reflect on GMOs) – at least not without overlaying a great deal of subjectivity which ends up subtracting from the value as an unbiased source of information.

    • Karl Haro von Mogel

      Interesting that a small, non-transparent subset are evaluated in this fashion in a peer-reviewed paper discussed in the other post, and you are only saying that we can’t assess the studies in this way.

  • Mlema

    I don’t know what you’re referring to or what you’re trying to say to me with this comment.

    • Karl Haro von Mogel

      The Diels et al. paper, of course.

  • Mlema

    Ah! OK. So there was a criticism in biofortified’s post on GM Watch’s supposed comments about GENERA – and the criticism was on the findings of the Diels et al paper. So, you’re saying that GENERA is like that paper and that you’re just assessing how each of these studies listed in GENERA reflects on GMOs? Interesting. I still don’t see how you come up with 197 peer-reviewed studies on the safety of GM foods for human consumption. But, I can understand your goal a bit better. So, if we shouldn’t take Diels word for it (Anastasia pointed out that she felt the percentages were wrong regarding independent funding) – should we accept biofortified’s categorization of these studies and its qualitative interpretation of how each study reflects on GMOs in general?