Deformed GMO Franken-butterflies? Not so fast…

It’s like Seralini with caterpillars. While the estimable Professor Giles-Eric had his infamous rats with tumours, this time we get deformed butterflies. The only surprise is that the media has not so far picked up the story, despite the catchy photographs helpfully included by the authors (see below). This is probably a good thing, because a read of the paper in question suggests two things: one, it is irrelevant, and two, it is likely wrong anyway.

journal.pone.0152264.g001

Butterfly with deformed wings on the left, purportedly ’caused’ by novel fatty acids in GMO camelina

Some background: Scientists at the government-funded Rothamsted Research institute in the UK have been developing omega-3 fatty acids in the oilseed crop camelina, using genetic engineering to transfer the relevant genes into the target plant. The object is to develop a sustainable source of feed for fish farming: currently farmed salmon are dependent for these essential oils on fish harvested from the marine environment. To reduce the burden of overfishing we need a land-based supply of feed, hence the project.

But how safe would this new GMO camelina be? Would the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA which are produced by the camelina affect insects consuming the crop? A new study published in PLOS One aimed to examine this question, using lab-reared cabbage white butterflies, a pest of cultivated brassicas such as camelina. The study, authored by Hixson et al, fed their lab-reared caterpillars artificial feed, some with the EPA and DHA fatty acids, and a control group without.

The results? Supposedly the groups fed the novel fatty acids got higher levels of wing deformities. And hence the predictable howls of outrage from the anti-GMO lobby, which is against all genetic engineering in plants and animals always, whatever the purpose or result, and saw an easy propaganda win: ‘Nutritionally-enhanced GM crops? Too bad about the deformed butterflies’. Did you hear that? DEFORMED BUTTERFLIES! FRANKEN-CABBAGE WHITES!! BAN GMOS NOW!!! Etc.

Something fishy here methinks. So let’s look at the study methodology. What is rather reminiscient of Seralini is the low number of controls (25, with odd numbers of 4 different treatment groups totalling around 90 insects) and the high number of wing deformities in the controls: fully a third of the controls also had deformed wings, an inconvenient fact that the anti-GMO people predictably failed to note.

journal.pone.0152264.g002

So why the deformed wings? The study authors admit that they got the humidity wrong when raising the insects and that high humidity atmosphere is associated with wing deformities – but they go on to insist that there is a statistically significant correlation between dose and deformed wings anyway. Looks like another typically inappropriate use of p-values to me, but anyway you decide (see graph).

In any case, the entire exercise is unfortunately rather irrelevant, as Rothamsted has gently pointed out in a response statement. Most importantly, Hixson et al fed their caterpillars on artificial feed that is not their natural food. Why not just feed them GMO brassica leaves containing EPA and DHA? Because they claim they couldn’t get them, but when I queried Rothamsted about this, the scientists there told me Hixson et al never asked for leaf material. Instead the paper gives a long justification for why their artificial food was a good approximation:

In order to put this into context, we estimated the amount of EPA and DHA found in a genetically engineered camelina seed with what might be found in leaf tissue based on the following approximate calculation. We point out that concentrations of EPA and DHA in vegetative tissues of genetically engineered oilseed crops have not yet been reported… Therefore, the highest amounts of EPA and DHA included in the artificial diets in this study are close to, but slight underestimates of, those in leaves that would be consumed by leaf specialists (such as P. rapae) in genetically engineered oilseed crop fields.

Whoops. Wrong! Rothamsted scientists have confirmed that there is no EPA and DHA expressed in the camelina leaves at all, because its expression is controlled by a seed-specific promoter. Cabbage whites don’t eat brassica seeds, so the whole experiment is rather pointless.

As Rothamsted says in its statement:

Rothamsted Research scientists have analysed leaf tissue of GM Camelina and non-GM Camelina plants to examine whether there is any production of EPA and DHA in the leaves of the plants, even if they have not been designed to do so. Rothamsted Research has unpublished data that demonstrate that the leaves of GM Camelina plants have exactly the same fatty acid profile as non-GM camelina plants and are devoid of EPA and DHA. These data will be submitted for peer review as part of a broader study in the near future.

The authors Hixson et al reference their feeding methodologies to work published by Cornell University entomologist Professor Tony Shelton. I contacted Professor Shelton (note: I have worked with Shelton at Cornell in other projects, such as Bt brinjal in Bangladesh) and received the following response:

The authors stress caution in interpreting their results, and this is fully justified. In their study they used an artificial diet and such simple diets do not mimic the complex physiological interactions that occur when insects feed on their natural host plants. Furthermore, the authors acknowledge the insects they used were “highly adapted” to the artificial diet and may not mimic those found in nature. Therefore, the authors are correct in stating that field trials, with proper oversight, should be conducted to advance our knowledge about the risks and benefits of plant production of EPA and DHA.

So we had best ignore the howls of protest from the antis and move towards proper field trials in order to get some more meaningful results. Jolly good. Thankfully only last week the UK government approved Rothamsted’s request for consent to proceed to further field trials, so this can now happen. These won’t at this stage be looking at ecosystem effects as the scientists are still refining the balance of the oils produced in the camelina crop. However, field-level effects on invertebrates would certainly be a subject of future study before any commercial release.

Anti-GMO campaigners have tried to stop the trial and generate public alarm on the basis that EPA and DHA are “novel” in terrestrial ecosystems and therefore potentially to be feared. Swiss anti-GM scientist Angelica Hilbeck is quoted saying:

The fact that these compounds [long-chain omega-3 fatty acids] are novel in terrestrial systems has been entirely overlooked until this study. I congratulate the authors for having raised the issue of this important ecological risk before these crops are planted on a significant scale.

Sounds scary. And Hixson et al also justify their study with the same novelty argument:

Because EPA and DHA are largely novel FA [fatty acids] at the level of terrestrial primary producers and terrestrial insects, and have not yet entered the agroecosystem, the effects of their consumption on terrestrial insect growth and development are unknown, and have not been the subject of any scientific study to date.

But actually it turns out EPA and DHA aren’t so novel at all. As Professor Johnathan Napier, lead Rothamsted scientist on the project told me:

The study by Stefanie Hixson and colleagues is potentially interesting, but as the authors themselves acknowledge, their experimental system is testing something quite distinct from our GM camelina plants which accumulate omega-3 fish oils only in their seeds. And their overall rationale, the suggestion that such fatty acids as DHA, and especially EPA, are not produced in terrestrial ecosystems is not always the case. In fact, one of the genes we used to produce EPA in our camelina plants is from the moss Physcomitrella patens (commonly known as spreading earth-moss), which is found in many temperate parts of the world. [See reference here.]

Yes, yes. I know cabbage whites don’t eat moss. But the argument that these fatty acids are so novel that they’ve never been out of the sea before, and could therefore run riot across terrestrial ecosystems, is clearly bogus. Both EPA and DHA are also found in algae that colonise rivers and ponds on land, Professor Napier told me.

To be clear in closing, I am not alleging that Hixson et al were motivated by rabid ideological bias in the same way that Seralini so obviously was. Their motivation for the study may well have been just the spirit of pure scientific inquiry. I have no problem with that. Nor do I think it’s so bad as to merit being retracted, as Seralini’s infamous work eventually was. As Professor Napier said, it’s “potentially interesting”. It’s a shame though that Hixson et al didn’t design a study that might have yielded seriously relevant or interesting results, rather than one which begs more questions than it answers.

A final thought: cabbage whites, as I mentioned earlier, are a pest. I hold a personal grudge against them for trashing my allotment broccoli crop every summer. So my humble suggestion is that Rothamsted scientists consider putting a Bt gene in there to just kill the damn things. That would protect the camelina from Lepidopteran insect damage, and no doubt reduce the need for insecticide sprays and thereby protect the wider ecosystem. Just a thought…

62 Comments

  1. Leo Smith

    If it isn’t Glubble worming, Or Newkewlar Ray Diation, Its gotta be GM crops. innit?

    Or Margret Fatcher. Stands to reeson, dunnit?

    Reply
    1. Clyde Davies

      Don’t try to conflate all three issues. It doesn’t work on the likes of people like me and Mark. And it makes you look like a shyster.

  2. àng

    the bt toxins in gmo corn (not NOT natural) bt is the natural bacteria, used in organic farming, it spreads amongst the caterpillars, then it turns into toxins in the guts, they crawl away and die. Monsanto, took not the bt, but the horrible toxins from these dying caterpillars, and put that into GMO corn. Now fed a steady diet in the corn, for 10 years, the caterpillars that died, are long gone, the ones that survived, are now happily still muching through that GMO corn and all the toxins. But they cant get the toxins out now. That is why the world is so busy, BURNING GMO CORN CROPS.

    Reply
    1. Eric Bjerregaard

      And Ang sets another record for being wrong.

    2. Rickinreallife

      “the bt toxins in gmo corn (not NOT natural) bt is the natural bacteria, used in organic farming, it spreads amongst the caterpillars, then it turns into toxins in the guts, they crawl away and die. Monsanto, took not the bt, but the horrible toxins from these dying caterpillars, and put that into GMO corn.”

      Ang, with all due respect, I have to take exception to your rather convoluted and I believe purposely disingenuous description. I have observed you advance this same semantic exercise in other comment threads and it still insults the intelligence. You are trying to invoke a disgust response by proposing that when consuming bt traited crops, you are actually consuming the same dna and proteins as if you picked up a dead caterpillar off the ground and ate it. You’ve refined your description a little from the last time I observed you advance your theory. You are now saying that the natural bt itself does not produce the toxin, but that the natural bt is somehow processed in the gut of the larvae into a toxin. Then, according to you, crop developers took some of this toxin out of the catepillar’s gut and figured out a way to make the corn produce the toxin as it was manufactured in the gut of the caterpillar. Thus, when you are consuming bt traited crops, you are not eating anything that you would eat if you ate an organically grown crop treated with bt, you are eating some toxin only created in the gut of a caterpillar after they eat the wholesome, safe bt organism.

      I am wondering how you understand how the bt sprays applied in organic works (and the same bt sprays can be used in conventional as well). The naturally occurring bt organism sprayed on the crop has a gene that instructs the bt to produce a Cry protein. It is this Cry protein that has the toxic effect, by binding to receptor cells in the catepillar’s stomach lining that erodes the integrity of the catepillars gut. The caterpillar itself did not create the Cry protein, or create some novel chemical manufactured from the Cry protein. Bt crops endow the plant with the same gene that exists in the Bt bacteria. Not one bit of caterpillar dna is used. If you consume a bt crop, you are only consuming the Cry protein. If you consume a crop treated with bt sprays, you are not only consuming any residual Cry protein produced by the natural bt organism, you are also consuming the entire bt organisms and its dna that contains instructions for producing the Cry protein.

      So no, bt crops do not by any twist of the truth equate to eating the flesh of dead catepillars. The gene in bt crops was taken from the natural bt organism, not from the caterpillar.

      But let me do the same thing you are doing. By your logic, when you eat chocolate you are actually eating dead dogs. Chocolate is derived from the roasted seeds of Theobroma cacao, which contains certain properties that can be toxic to animals: caffeine and theobromine. If ingested by dogs, these two ingredients can also lead to various medical complications and may even prove fatal for your dog. The toxin is naturally produced by the cacao plant, nobody took some dna out of a dead dog and stuck it into the cacao plant. But that is the argument you are trying to make.

  3. Clyde Davies

    “The study authors admit that they got the humidity wrong when raising the insects and that high humidity atmosphere is associated with wing deformities – but they go on to insist that there is a statistically significant correlation between dose and deformed wings anyway.”

    It would have been more honest to admit that they couldn’t really draw any significant conclusions. But scientists are under such pressure to publish nowadays that studies of this quality are all too common.

    Perhaps we ought to start insisting that we don’t judge scientists purely on their volume of output.

    Reply
    1. Alex Harman

      Better yet, the study could have been published with the conclusion that the data do not support rejection of the null hypothesis. The “file drawer problem” of negative results languishing unpublished in researchers’ filing cabinets (or hard drives, in the modern era) is arguably even worse than the “publish-or-perish” pressure to generate results interesting enough to be accepted by a journal.

  4. Clyde Davies

    BTW I hate cabbage whites as well. I gave up my allotment when I didn’t have the time to look after it. So I planted some nice nasturtiums in my flower beds. They ate them too.

    Reply
  5. Kevin

    Even without adding bt, maybe the Rothamsted Research institute should patent the activity against the cabbage whites. I mean, hey, they could cite this study that “proves” the insecticidal activity.

    Reply
    1. Clyde Davies

      But cabbage whites don’t eat brassica seeds.

    2. Alex Harman

      Perhaps someone should engineer food-crop Brassicas that express EPA and DHA in the parts eaten by humans; that might have the double benefit of reducing cabbage white infestation (if these results were valid) and providing a new, inexpensive and vegetarian source of dietary omega-3’s, essential fatty acids in which a good deal of research suggests Western diets are often deficient.

    3. Clyde Davies

      I wonder how these acids would fare in leaves and shoots? I can imagine they wouldn’t cause any adverse effects in seeds, but a preponderance of these substances in the photosynthetic parts of the plants might upset development and/or metabolism.

      Has anybody else investigated this idea?

  6. Ali Hssaon

    Personally I closely observed the sucess of BT brinjal cultivation in Bangladesh as a farmer without any echological hazard. I am rendering my thanks to Cornell Alliance and especially to Mr. Mark Lynas.

    Reply
    1. Clyde Davies

      Do you grow your own brinjal, or is this someone else’s crop you have seen? It must be very good to know you don’t have to spray so much.

  7. Wolfgang Nellen

    What is wrong with the peer reviewing? We just got a paper in a PLoS journal accepted. It went back and forth because the reviewers were (over) careful. There is now more “probably”, “suggests”, “indicate” in the discussion. I agree that one should be careful with conclusions. We are still happy with the paper and even with the strict reviewers’ comments. But why is reviewing very critical here and not there? According to Mark’s comments (I have not read the original paper), reviewers should have asked for additional experiments or at least to soften the conclusions. It is not good advertisement for a journal when people from outside make critical comments on apparently sloppy reviewing.

    Reply
  8. Scott

    Mark,
    Here is a thought. Try spraying Bt on your broccoli when the cabbage butterflies are thick.

    Or are you so stuck on GMOs that using a biological insecticide is off limits?.

    Reply
    1. Robert Wager

      Scott. Did you know that the average bacteria produces ~5000 different proteins? GE crops take just the Bt Cry or Vip encoding DNA and leave 4999 other (often uncharacterized) proteins behind. When one applies live Bt bacteria all 5000 proteins are applied. Something to think about.

    2. Wolfgang Nellen

      do we have reliable safety tests on all these 5000 proteins?

    3. Scott

      Yes and yes. Well known and quite safe.

  9. Mike Drake

    Mentioning this here only for the sake of completeness, and in case you feel the need to post a subsequent rebuttal, etc. But in any case, someone at GMWatch believes she has “debunked” your arguments (though I note that much of it is simply reiteration of the original claims with no further proof):

    http://gmwatch.org/news/latest-news/16910-mark-lynas-and-rothamsted-caught-making-false-claims-to-defend-gmos

    Reply
    1. Mark Lynas (Post author)

      thanks Mike – you said it! 🙂

  10. Clyde Davies

    I love this particular section
    “Unproven claim: GM camelina leaves don’t contain the problematic fatty acids”
    This is really getting into Russell’s Teapot territory!

    Reply
  11. Doc

    I find it interesting that you mention Seralini’s “biased”, “retracted”, and “(discredited)” study a number of times without ever mentioning that he has won two court cases proving that his study was forced to be retracted through fraudulent means. Fraud, forgery, and false testimony, that’s what was used to “discredit” his study. But I suppose you think that’s all good science. smh

    Reply
    1. Clyde Davies

      Still doesn’t stop the science itself from being utter shit. And the way he treated the lab rats as being utterly deplorable. New Scientist explains exactly why in https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22287-study-linking-gm-crops-and-cancer-questioned/ .
      For instance:
      “But didn’t the treated rats get sicker than the untreated rats?
      Some did, but that’s not the full story. It wasn’t that rats fed GM maize or herbicide got tumours, and the control rats did not. Five of the 20 control rats – 25 per cent – got tumours and died, while 60 per cent in “some test groups” that ate GM maize died. Some other test groups, however, were healthier than the controls.

      Toxicologists do a standard mathematical test, called the standard deviation, on such data to see whether the difference is what you might expect from random variation, or can be considered significant. The French team did not present these tests in their paper. They used a complicated and unconventional analysis that Sanders calls “a statistical fishing trip”.

      And even worse:
      “But even more damning from a pharmacological perspective, the team found the same effect at all doses of either herbicide or GM maize. That’s unusual, because nearly all toxic effects worsen as the dose increases – it is considered essential for proving that the agent causes the effect.

      Even the smallest dose that the team applied resulted in alleged effects on the rats. That is sometimes seen with other toxic agents. The team suggests that the effect kicks in at some very low dose, hits its maximum extent immediately, and stays the same at any higher dose.

      But it could more simply mean the GM maize and the herbicide had no measured effect, and that is why the dose made no difference. “They show that old rats get tumours and die,” says Mark Tester of the University of Adelaide, Australia. “That is all that can be concluded.”’

      Yeah – “it could more simply mean the GM maize and the herbicide had no measured effect”. As the very old saying goes , ‘the dose makes the poison’, and no quantifiable dose means no poison.

      And yet Seralini still bangs his drum.

    2. Doc

      Clyde Davis, “It is hard to imagine”, “we don’t know whether this was a factor.”

      This is your big voice of authority refutation? Weak, Clyde, weak. Certainly no stronger than the study itself, which was peer reviewed again and found to have merit.

    3. Clyde Davies

      Doc: Seralini was exonerated of fraud. But he was not exonerated of shoddy science and incompetent study design. If you can refute the criticism then go ahead. You know, the inadequate number of controls, the choice of Sprague Dawley rats that get tumours anyway, the choice noto to conduct the studies over the usual two years, the statistical fishing trip, the lack of a dose response effect, etc. etc. One serious flaw is enough to damage a study, so how come four are excused by some legal process?

      Good or bad science is not decided by a judge. It’s down to how it’s done. And if you had a Doctorate (as you seem to want us to think) you’d realise that.

    4. Doc

      Clyde, you seem to have some reading comprehension difficulties. Or perhaps you are just willfully ignorant of the subject matter.

      Those that got Seralini’s study retracted, originally, were found GUILTY of fraud in a court of law. It turns out it was only through forgery and fraud that his study was ever retracted at all, not because of any scientific criteria.

      Since then, there has been another (of many) study that the usual subjects are not even attempting to discredit. It’s much scarier than the previous study(s).

      http://download.springer.com/static/pdf/77/art%253A10.1186%252Fs12940-015-0056-1.pdf?originUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fehjournal.biomedcentral.com%2Farticle%2F10.1186%2Fs12940-015-0056-1&token2=exp=1471900411~acl=%2Fstatic%2Fpdf%2F77%2Fart%25253A10.1186%25252Fs12940-015-0056-1.pdf*~hmac=b173357b5c198538b63676e7b13eb6af55cbc04ed62fe3216b1c8ff682facec3

    5. Clyde Davies

      Doc, read and comprehend this: Fuck Off. I can read the scientific journals perfectly well, as unlike you I have a PhD. And unlike you I get my information from the horses mouth, not its arse.

    6. Clyde Davies

      And that is another study by that arse Seralini. I can point you to 400+ studies that show NO harm whatsoever by GMOS. I’ll read that piece of horseshit you cherry picked if you read all of those. It will get you to stop spouting crap from a few months anyway.

    7. Doc

      So a court of law with proof and documentation of forgery and fraud is “the horse’s arse.” Good to know.

      Of those 400 studies, nearly every single one has nothing at all to do with Monsanto patented products. In North America, GMO and Monsanto are essentially synonyms. So the vast majority of those studies you are so fond of are completely irrelevant to this subject. When you add the fact that all studies on Monsanto patented products have been subject to 100% censorship rights by Monsanto, there are no independent scientific studies on Monsanto products on that list at all, by definition.

      No, your reading comprehension is not up to par.

    8. Clyde Davies

      The point of this original post was whether GMO camelina caused deformities in butterflies. It had fuck all to do with Monsanto and fuck all to do with glyphosate. So when it comes to relevance, I suggest you stick your pompous comments where the Sun doesn’t shine.

      Now unless you have something to say that actually has a bearing on Mark’s article, instead of resurrecting zombie arguments about discredited studies, then do us all a favour and get lost.

    9. Doc

      Discredited through proven fraud and forgery. This is my point. You really ought to re-educate yourselves on what “science” and “critical thought ” is. You have lost your way and are blindly following money and misinformation. Your parents would be ashamed.

    10. Clyde Davies

      Let’s hear some actual scientific argument shall We? Let’s hear your refutation of my criticisms, of all five of those serious issues with the original study I pointed out. Come on ‘Doc’, let’s see you mix it with someone who actually has letters before and after his name. And actually has the guts to own up to having a name.

    11. Doc

      You mean aside from the fact that the retraction was proven to have been engineered through fraud and forgery? And that the publication that put the study through two peer reviews before publishing it then retracted it after a Monsanto executive joined their editorial board? And that fact that the retraction did not meet the general criteria for retraction of any paper, even with the fraud and forgery behind it?

      The entire affair has all been thoroughly and publicly dragged out for years. I can’t help it if you have confirmation bias and refuse to see all sides of the the truth of the story. I never said the study wasn’t flawed. Many, many studies are inconclusive, but that doesn’t mean they have no value.

      This much time, money, and resources are not expended to fraudulently and illegally discredit something by people who have nothing to hide.

      http://www.gmoseralini.org/republication-seralini-study-science-speaks/

    12. Clyde Davies

      As I expected, you can’tell actually refute the criticisms because you’re too stupid or ignorant to do so. Those criticisms I list were typical of many from a variety of different scientific commentators and predated any calling for a retraction. In other words a chorus of condemnation from the outset. Seralini can sue every single one of his critics but it won’t make him any more competent or znyou less of a tarnished ideologue.

      And then you go and post a link from the Great Man himself instead of engaging with the argument. You’re not very bright are you?

    13. Doc

      Clyde, this brings it all back to your lack of reading comprehension. Can you see why? Hint: citations.

    14. Clyde Davies

      ANSWER HE QUESTIONS I PUT TO YOU or display your lack of scientific comprehension. How do you defend:
      * the inadequate number of controls
      * the choice of Sprague Dawley rats that get tumours anyway
      * the choice not to conduct the studies over the usual two years
      * the statistical fishing trip
      * the lack of a dose response effect
      in Seralini’s original study?

      Science doesn’t *end* when a paper gets published, you know? If anything it can get more frenetic as people with real expertise and authority pore over it and in many cases tear it apart. This turned into a feeding frenzy with Seralini, with a pack of very healthy, muscular scientific beagles taking down this decrepit old fox of a study. The retraction was nothing more than the final use of the humane killer.

      Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Seralini provided nothing of the sort. The man’s an ideologue first, and a scientist second, third, fourth or even possibly fifth. For instance there were NINE TIMES as many test animals as control animals, instead of the usual two to one ratio.

      OF course, none of this actually means a damn to people like you because there’s nothing you love more than a martyr. Now, as I said earlier, Fuck Off and don’t come back until you actually have some science to talk about.

    15. Doc

      All right, you refuse to read or research the subject properly, even with all the links and resources provided to you, so I guess I’ll have to walk you through it with baby steps.

      – Monsanto used fraud, forgery and bribery to get the paper retracted.
      – Therefore the ground for retraction and the activity around it are suspect and null.
      – The paper was later peer reviewed AGAIN and approved for publishing AGAIN,a s well as having had all data released, which is something Monsanto has never done for their similar shorter study.

      If you have a problem with the paper and the science behind it, why not address the actual peers who reviewed it and deemed it was worthy of publishing, AGAIN?

      Which of the peer reviews for the most recent publishing do you most strongly agree with or disagree with? Why? Theirs are the crucial opinions in this matter, not yours or mine. This is not an area of specialty for either of us.

      Which one of those experts in this field do you disagree with their review recommending this paper be published again? Please be specific.

      Look, we both know you haven’t read a damn thing about any of what i just mentioned, above. And at least one of us knows that is not the issue. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you do not have some vested nor monetary interest in Monsanto and the industry it’s active in and your reason for your obstinance and self-imposed ignorance are personal.

      You’re just another one of many thousands of self-perceived intelligentsia who jump at any chance to show your “superiority” over all those average people out there. The best way to do that is to find a piece of controversial “science” that is widely accepted to be true, even though there has been hard evidence for decades to the contrary. It gives you a nice wide audience to feel superior to and talk down to.

      Sorry, Clyde, you’ve been duped. You’ve been lied to. Aside from Seralini himself, there is not a single independent scientific study ever published on any Monsanto patented product. So with whatever flaws he may have, he is the only source of valid scientific information available on the planet today for this subject.

      These are the facts. I would say I’m sorry they don’t fit your internal narrative and ego-stroking mechanism, but I’m not. Perhaps the answer for you is counseling to help you figure out why your esteem is so low you need to find these sorts of things to latch onto to make yourself feel superior to others. It’s worth a shot.

    16. Clyde Davies

      Ok, Mark, apologies for my tone. I find myself becoming increasingly impatient with rank obduracy. Keeping it civil, I’ll address these arguments point by point:
      “– The paper was later peer reviewed AGAIN and approved for publishing AGAIN, as well as having had all data released, which is something Monsanto has never done for their similar shorter study.

      If you have a problem with the paper and the science behind it, why not address the actual peers who reviewed it and deemed it was worthy of publishing, AGAIN?”

      Oh not it wasn’t. From the Wikipedia entry on the affair:
      “In June 2014, the original study was republished, with the addition of the entire data set, in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe.[87][88] The editor said that the paper was republished without further scientific peer review, “because this had already been conducted by Food and Chemical Toxicology, and had concluded there had been no fraud nor misrepresentation.”[88] The republication renewed the controversy, but now with additional controversy over the behavior of the editors of both journals.[89]”

      “Which of the peer reviews for the most recent publishing do you most strongly agree with or disagree with? Why? Theirs are the crucial opinions in this matter, not yours or mine. This is not an area of specialty for either of us.”

      I agree with the *original set* of criticisms, not the most recent reviews, because Seralini did not address these but simply republished the original paper in a non-peer reviewed journal. I don’t see any point in taking into account new criticism if the old ones haven’t been dealt with.

      ” I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt that you do not have some vested nor monetary interest in Monsanto and the industry it’s active in and your reason for your obstinance and self-imposed ignorance are personal.”

      No, it’s just that I can discriminate between bullshit and stuff worth listening to. Also, the Seralini Affair has taken on zombie aspects. And no, I’m not active in Monsanto, GMOs or have any monetary interests in them.

      “You’re just another one of many thousands of self-perceived intelligentsia who jump at any chance to show your “superiority” over all those average people out there. The best way to do that is to find a piece of controversial “science” that is widely accepted to be true, even though there has been hard evidence for decades to the contrary. It gives you a nice wide audience to feel superior to and talk down to.”

      I have a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry granted to me from the University of Nottingham, a Russell Group university. I didn’t get it by collecting box tops from cereal packets. Now, as it happens, I regard myself as being one of those ‘average people’. I’m not rich, famous, or a leader in my field. I do however have a modicum of training sufficient to allow me to process scientific arguments and make value judgments about them, much more so than people without that training. I also know when I don’t know. I’m not at home to Messrs Dunning and Kruger.

      “Sorry, Clyde, you’ve been duped. You’ve been lied to. Aside from Seralini himself, there is not a single independent scientific study ever published on any Monsanto patented product. So with whatever flaws he may have, he is the only source of valid scientific information available on the planet today for this subject.”

      Oooh look, here’s one:
      http://genera.biofortified.org/view/%C5%98ehout2009

      Oh, and look, here’s another!
      http://genera.biofortified.org/view/Ash2003

      And this one…
      http://genera.biofortified.org/view/Buzoianu2012c

      And the list goes on and on and on…

      “So with whatever flaws he may have, he is the only source of valid scientific information available on the planet today for this subject.”

      Um…yeah. In a parallel universe maybe.

      “These are the facts. I would say I’m sorry they don’t fit your internal narrative and ego-stroking mechanism, but I’m not. Perhaps the answer for you is counseling to help you figure out why your esteem is so low you need to find these sorts of things to latch onto to make yourself feel superior to others. It’s worth a shot.”

      Well, you know what they say: everybody’s entitled to their own opinion, nobody’s entitled to their own facts. These may be *your* facts, but I’m sufficiently happy with my own grasp on reality to turn down your suggestion that I seek counselling.

      And my final comment: I don’t feel ‘superior’ to others. I just have access to some superior arguments. Now, if you actually have some of your own that are better than mine and backed up with evidence, as opposed to being so tissue thin I can poke a finger through them, then share them around. It would benefit all of us.

      Until then…

    17. Doc

      ~sigh~

      If you had bothered to read anything your opining on, you would see that here are peer reviews listed for the republication. But I guess I should expect nothing more a this point. A “scientist” who uses Wiki as their authoritative source, well… ’nuff said.

      Those are not independent studies on Monsanto patented products, by definition. All research on such products have been done so under strict contract with Monsanto that gives them full rights of censorship over any findings, including that the study ever existed at all.

      You have never seen an independent study of Monsanto patented products, by definition, with the exception of Seralini’s work.

    18. Clyde Davies

      Yeah, I’ve had that Wiki criticism directed at me in the past. To which I say: if you disagree with what is written then simply go and change it. Wikipedia is great like that. You know; put up or shut up. Then the other people who contribute will probably scent blood and go for you. Go on – change it if you disagree with it.

      And then you go on to claim “Those are not independent studies on Monsanto patented products, by definition. All research on such products have been done so under strict contract with Monsanto that gives them full rights of censorship over any findings, including that the study ever existed at all.”

      Right: firstly, GENERA lists all those studies as ‘independently conducted’. It even lists 4 Seralini studies:
      http://genera.biofortified.org/search_results.php?query=seralini

      So, if you claim that these studies are not independent but subject to control by Monsanto, then how exactly did Seralini manage to evade their clutches? I’d say that if these studies are all worthy of inclusion in this database, then they should all be judged by the same yardstick, wouldn’t you?

    19. Doc

      The Czech study might be independent, but it’s unlikely. I doubt their government is willing to stand up to Monsanto legal and political pressure to violate their patent rights over their material. The USA study you linked is definitely not, for the reasons I stated. I highly doubt the Irish study was done without the Monsanto contract, given the many and varied business relationships between our two countries.

      As I said, you have never seen an independent study of Monsanto patented products, with a possible very few exceptions.

      The link I provided to Seralini’s site has a full list of links and citations covering the original sources of all the information I was talking about at the bottom of that page. If you had bothered to even glance at it, instead of dismissing it out of hand, you might have realized that.

      But you don’t ever change, OK? Just keep your head deep in that sand. 😉

    20. Clyde Davies

      “The Czech study might be independent, but it’s unlikely. I doubt their government is willing to stand up to Monsanto legal and political pressure to violate their patent rights over their material. The USA study you linked is definitely not, for the reasons I stated. I highly doubt the Irish study was done without the Monsanto contract, given the many and varied business relationships between our two countries.

      As I said, you have never seen an independent study of Monsanto patented products, with a possible very few exceptions.

      The link I provided to Seralini’s site has a full list of links and citations covering the original sources of all the information I was talking about at the bottom of that page. If you had bothered to even glance at it, instead of dismissing it out of hand, you might have realized that.”

      This is becoming stupid and utterly paranoid. And in case you’ve forgotten, glyphosate is well out of patent so Monsanto has utterly no control over what does and doesn’t get done with it.

      But none of this has any bearing on my original arguments which you have and continue to dodge. There are five glaring flaws at least in Seralini’s methodology, none of which you have refuted. And none of which he addressed by doing a better study. Ask yourself ‘why not?’ Or perhaps should should be asking ‘well, perhaps he DID redo the study, and the results are languishing on some computer never to see the light of day?’

      Any decent scientist with controversial findings would be calling for independent verification of them. Seralini hasn’t to my knowledge. And I’ll prefer to go with the 390-odd other studies that have investigated GMOs and found that there is nothing whatsoever to worry about. And before you start to lecture me about how ‘scientific consensus’ doesn’t really exist, then I’ll leave it to a much more distinguished UEA Graduate than me, Sir. Paul Nurse to deal with that one:

      https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=paul+nurse+james+delingpole

    21. Doc

      Clyde, as I mentioned early in this conversation, those 390 studies are irrelevant to the subject at hand: GMOs grown and consumed in North America. Only a tiny percent of that list has anything at all to do with Monsanto products and none of those are independent. The list you are presenting has no bearing whatsoever on the safety of GMO foods grown and consumed in North America.

      As for why he did not repeat the study addressing the flaws? Well, if you were being illegally hounded and persecuted by one of the most politically powerful corporations in America, you might have trouble getting funding and work done too. However, he has been a part of more related research to come out recently which I’m guessing you are not aware of. This one doesn’t seem to have anyone trying to tear it down. I’m sure he learned the lesson how bulletproof, above and beyond anyone else out there, his papers have to be on this subject.

      http://download.springer.com/static/pdf/77/art%253A10.1186%252Fs12940-015-0056-1.pdf?originUrl=http%3A%2F%2Fehjournal.biomedcentral.com%2Farticle%2F10.1186%2Fs12940-015-0056-1&token2=exp=1471951877~acl=%2Fstatic%2Fpdf%2F77%2Fart%25253A10.1186%25252Fs12940-015-0056-1.pdf*~hmac=f3aea3e46987665dc4126e75a920eb8da5440975672c694059593b110514d6fb

    22. Clyde Davies

      “Clyde, as I mentioned early in this conversation, those 390 studies are irrelevant to the subject at hand: GMOs grown and consumed in North America. Only a tiny percent of that list has anything at all to do with Monsanto products and none of those are independent. The list you are presenting has no bearing whatsoever on the safety of GMO foods grown and consumed in North America.”

      Rubbish. Most GMO foods ARE grown and consumed in North America. Over three trillion GMO meals have been consumed over 20 years. If you apply the statistical rule of 3, then the maximum risk of a side effect we haven’t yet seen is 3/number of doses = one in a trillion. Of course, there is no such thing as a totally safe food, but if you’re afraid of that kind of a risk, stay indoors as a meteorite has more chance of killing you.

      “As for why he did not repeat the study addressing the flaws? Well, if you were being illegally hounded and persecuted by one of the most politically powerful corporations in America, you might have trouble getting funding and work done too. ”

      Was he? Was Monsanto really hounding him? And how did it not prevent him from conducting these other studies?

      I’ll go with the consensus on this. The EFSA said:
      “The study as reported by Séralini et al. was found to be inadequately designed, analysed and reported…The study as described by Séralini et al. does not allow giving weight to their results and conclusions as published. Conclusions cannot be drawn on the difference in tumour incidence between treatment groups on the basis of the design, the analysis and the results as reported. Taking into consideration Member States’ assessments and the authors’ answer to critics, EFSA finds that the study as reported by Séralini et al. is of insufficient scientific quality for safety assessments.”
      I’m no expert on food safety . The EFSA is packed with them. So I’ll defer to them . I’m also pretty certain that you’re no expert on food safety either. I’m pretty certain that I’ve forgotten more science than you will ever know.

      So I’ll do what I always do at this point. I’ll make my bet that within 10 years from now no GMO crop will be withdrawn from the market due to safe concerns originating from the technology. Say £50 stake? You can take the money from me if I’ve proven wrong or if I win you can donate the money to Centrepoint Uk, a housing charity from young people, if I win. Don’t forget, most GMO crops are grown and eaten in the most litigious country on Earth, which has seen many medicines removed from the marketplace after nasty side effects were found.

      Go on. Put your money where your mouth is. Put up – or shut up.

    23. Doc

      Really? You’re going to bring prescription drugs into this? Are you really that naive and clueless that you don’t know the process for FDA approval that’s been going on for over a decade? I think I have identified the issue. You, as someone living elsewhere in the world, are simply unable to believe the degree to which the American regulatory, academic/scientific, and legislative systems have been compromised and consistently do things that are inimical to human health and well being.

    24. Clyde Davies

      I am simply pointing out that a decision in a court of law ought to be sufficiently decisive as to whether a crop is dangerous or not. After all, you just have to look at, say, the Vioxx scandal to see how it worked for pharmaceuticals. There is a list other settlements here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_pharmaceutical_settlements . And you seem to think that settles the matter scientifically as well as legally for Seralini. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

      Now, I’ve never had anybody take me up on that bet, which I’ve offered too many times for me to remember. So, mate, let’s see if you have the courage of your convictions. £50 says that a GMO crop will not be withdrawn after 10 years as a result of a decision in a court of law regarding its safety.

      Put up. or shut up.

    25. Doc

      10 years is not nearly a long enough time frame to have confidence in seeing something like that happen. Monsanto has nearly 100 years of practice of keeping dangerous products on the market for years and even decades after they have found to be dangerous to the health of the general population, And they are more politically powerful now than they have ever been in the past. They essentially own our FDA and EPA , for the most part.

    26. Clyde Davies

      We’ve had 20 years of these crops being grown and nothing proven, not even an upset stomach. How long would you like if another 10 years wasn’t enough? 20 years, 30 years? Let’s let the maximum risk decline through the sheer power of statistical inference to one in two trillion, then. very soon, we’ll be extending the period of observation to longer than the human lifespan, after which it won’t matter one iota.

      I think you’re fundamentally spineless. It’s only fifty quid, and you won’t even risk that. But neither has anybody else I’ve ever challenged. Moral cowards, down to every single individual.

    27. Doc

      We have no way of knowing what the effects have been. There has been a huge surge in gastric and a host of other conditions and diseases in the same time frame and trend correlation as the introduction of GMO foods into our food supply. But they are not labeled, they are not segregated and they are not tracked, so there is no way to analyze and determine what correlations, if any, are relevant and directly related. This is not an accident. If you look at the corresponding history of lobbying and legislation this is by design.

    28. Clyde Davies

      “We have no way of knowing what the effects have been. There has been a huge surge in gastric and a host of other conditions and diseases in the same time frame and trend correlation as the introduction of GMO foods into our food supply. But they are not labeled, they are not segregated and they are not tracked, so there is no way to analyze and determine what correlations, if any, are relevant and directly related. This is not an accident. If you look at the corresponding history of lobbying and legislation this is by design.”

      Comment like thisbetray your scientific ignorance. Correlation IS NOT casuation. Did you know that there is a significant correlation between consumption of organic foods and autism? http://boingboing.net/2013/01/01/correlation-between-autism-dia.html

      You can find some other fun correlations here. http://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations I particularly like the implication that cheese causes people to die by strangling in their bedsheets. But then, it’s obvious cheese gives you nightmares.

      I’ve heard enough prevarication. Either you think Seralini did good science and was unfairly treated or you’re just blustering. Take the bet or be labelled a moral coward along with the rest of them who flinched.

    29. Doc

      And this is why I keep referencing your lack of reading comprehension ability. I did not say correlation equals causation as anyone, except you, it seems, can clearly see. What’s also true is that correlation is most often the catalyst for scientific research that does prove causation. In this case we are unable to perform that research because the ability to track the facts and the data does not exist. Again, this is no accident.

      Perhaps a remedial English/reading class is in order before you to attempt to continue this conversation. It gets really boring having to simplify basic concepts and repeat myself so much. Let me know when you reach that point, otherwise I’m done dumbing this all down for you. It’s clearly still not helping.

    30. Clyde Davies

      It’s what you clearly *implied*, and now you’re backtracking and trying to make out I’m too stupid to pick up your ‘more nuanced message’. I’m all for GMO labelling, but with QR codes instead of huge red skull-and crossbones affairs, so that consumers can decide what’s important, not the likes of you or Greenpeace.

      Enough of this. You evidently won’t stand by your implications and your attempts to patronise me are simply a diversionary tactic. One thing I think I’ve comprehended very well is your utter lack of any backbone.

      Oh and anybody who thinks that Seralini has produced anything of any worth isn’t very bright either.

      Over and out.

    31. Wolfgang Nellen

      We have serious problems with critically reading the literature! Many students do not learn it sufficiently and lay people? How could they know?
      For young scientists (and others) I strongly recommend this series:
      https://www.biomedcentral.com/collections/wiwwtp

      I am using the Seralini paper and this one http://www.nature.com/articles/srep12886 to discuss with students where potential flaws are, which controls are possibly missing, how the data may or may not be interpreted. After reading the papers, the students become really creative within a 2 hour discussion. One student suggested (from the Seralini paper) that you just have to take up enough roundup to survive ;-). That’s what the raw data say – but can we draw this conclusion?

      Another, less scientific leg (but important in the public debate), is to carefully research conflicts of interest and funding. Unfortunately, this is sometimes obscured by the authors. In the public debate, it is easy (and unfair) to just say that someone “gets money from Monsanto”. There was actually a claim by an anti-GMO organisation that Monsanto paid more than 100 Nobel Laureates to say that Glyphosate is safe ;-).
      It takes a lot of time to find past and current affiliations of authors with interest groups and flow of money. But students get all excited when they do the detective work.

      What we need are “instruction booklets” for students and the public “How to read a scientific paper” and “How to read an article in popular science”. It would greatly help to educate the public and to bring the debate on a reasonable level.
      Anyone going to write this?

    32. Doc

      You aren’t sharp enough to have this debate with me. You make a fool of yourself without my prompting or guidance.

    33. Doc

      The author of the article is the one who referenced Seralini and his study on Monsanto GMOs. It seems your animosity is misdirected.

    34. Clyde Davies

      No, dimwit, my animosity is directed at you because you are tilting at the same old tedious Green windmills of Monsanto and glyphosate and completely ignoring the actual matter under discussion, that of shoddy science contrived again to prop up a creaking agenda.

      Of course I wouldn’t expect you to be able to engage with any *scientific * arguments. I would not expect you to be able to find your arse with both hands TBH.

  12. Clyde Davies

    “You aren’t sharp enough to have this debate with me. You make a fool of yourself without my prompting or guidance.”

    We’ll let the people reading this thread be the judge of that. The fact you’re hiding behind a pseudonym and won’t actually answer my questions says the exact opposite, I’d say.

    Reply
    1. Mark Lynas (Post author)

      Keep it civil please guys. I prefer to see arguments on this website accompanied by evidence, not insults. Otherwise you’ll need to take it elsewhere.

    2. Doc

      Clyde, I answered your questions before you asked them. You were the one who couldn’t be bothered to look at the information I provided or follow the links and citations to their source. Ask yourself why you have discarded the basic tenets of academia and science to hold onto your position on this subject. That is where the answer to all your questions lies.

      Doc is the name I am most commonly addressed by. Every single day. 🙂

    3. Clyde Davies

      I read them both. One is a Seralini paper (which doesn’t scare me, but then very little does at my age) and the other is a link to his website.

      I prefer a more disinterested and objective appraisal. And Clyde is the name I am referred to every day. I hate being referred to by my title.

    4. Clyde Davies

      And Doc, I apologise for my tone earlier. It was out of order. But please don’t go around insulting people’s intelligence by telling them their comprehension skills are inferior to yours. I can read and comprehend sophisticated arguments perfectly well. Better than the vast majority of people. It doesn’t make me ‘superior’. But it does make me hypersensitive to BS, and I’ve dealt with far more of it my my life than anybody ought to.

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