By: Myles Power Edited by: Peter
About three weeks ago I was contacted by the Green PolkaDot Box – an organic food company who sells organic food in big green polkadot boxes. Like most organic food companies, they claimed that GM-foods are dangerous to humans. When asked for research that backs up their claims, they sent me a link to a questionable review of the herbicide roundup (glyphosate) which is an analogue of glycine and not a genetically modified organism (GMO). When challenged about their choice of proof of the dangers of GM-food, they went on the defensive and posted links to more research that apparently shows the true dangers…apparently… Their first link was to an anti-GMO website referencing another anti-GMO website referencing a review referencing more reviews referencing cookie cutter anti-GMO research. I have previously talked about this review and how, like all reviews, it’s only as good as the research it quotes. The second link sent to me was to a cookie cutter anti-GMO research paper named ‘A long-term toxicology study on pigs fed a combined genetically modified (GM) soy and GM maize diet’.
The paper is doing the rounds the moment, and apparently shows a link between GM-crops and stomach inflammation in pigs. Firstly, lets discuss the journal and the conflict of interests statement. The paper was published in the Journal of Organic Systems – a journal that only publishes a couple of times a year and is not listed on PubMed. Most of the articles are about organic food which is something you would expect from a journal whose sponsors include the Organic Federation of Australia (OFA).
The lead author is Dr Judy Carman – an associate professor at Finders University whose area of interest is investigating the safety of GM-foods. She is the owner of the website GMOJudyCarman which proudly states it is supported by GMO Seralini the group which produced the highly discredited paper “Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modiﬁed maize”. She is also the director for the Institute for Health and Environmental Research (IHER) – an anti-GMO group who seem to have vanished from the face of the internet. But thanks to the Way Back Machine we can see that their website went down some time after May this year, and the organisation was made for the sole purpose of damaging the reputation of GM-food. This is also the same organisation which helped fund the pig paper in question.
Another source of funding came from Verity Farms - an organic company which produces, amongst other things, non-GMO grain, non-GMO fed meats and organic fruits and vegetables. The co-founder happens to be one of the co-authors of the paper, Howard Vlieger. Howard has a very clear commercial interest in convincing the general public that there are real dangers to GM-food yet, unbelievably, this is never mentioned in the conflict of interest statement.
I know this is a bit of a low blow, but if you want to know the calibre of person we are dealing with here, I suggest you look at Howard’s Facebook page. There, you will see that as well as promoting fraudulent anti-GMO “research” he also promotes anti vaccine blogs and links to YouTube videos from Architects & Engineers for 911 Truth.
The pig paper is yet another example of cookie cutter anti-GMO research. No effort has been made to run an appropriate blank, there are errors in the experiment which invalidate all results, and they are fishing for data – ignoring everything that contradicts their predetermined views.
The animal feed chosen for the GM group was a mixture of GM-soy and corn obtained direct from farmers who had grown it commercially. The GM corn contained a mixture of four different GMOs which is problematic – it drastically increases the number of variables in your experiment. The paper also does not list the techniques used to make the GMOs, which is important as, if different, it would also increase the variables. The control group was not given the non-GMO equivalent and instead given a “mixture of non-GM soy and corn that was destined for animal feed”. The paper then very sneakily begins to talk about the physical similarities between the GM and non-GMO crop to try and convince the reader that the control group are given the soy and corn in the exact same concentrations. For this paper to have any weight in the real world the control and the GM group would have to be fed identical food, with the only difference being that one has been genetically altered. By not doing this, they have already invalidated all their results before they have even started.
Unbelievably, there are yet more problems with the blank given to the control group. The paper admits that the non-GM feed contained 0.4% GM corn, and that the non-GM soy contained 1.6% GM soy. This inexcusable incompetence is so mind blowing that I am surprised that the lead author (who has intimidating qualifications) would publish and promote such garbage. The paper however tries to turn this finding around by saying that “Such GM contamination of apparent non-GM material is common in the US” which is surprising considering that one of the co-authors of this paper is in the business of producing non-GM feed, and probably supplied the feed for the study.
The most shocking finding of the study was that 42 of the 73 pigs on the control diet and 43 of the 72 on the GM diet were suffering from pneumonia at the time of slaughter. Not only does this invalidate all of their findings, but it is yet another example of anti-GMO “research” needlessly subjecting animals to inhumane conditions (like they did in the long term toxicity of roundup paper where they allowed rats to live up until the point when 25% of their body mass had tumours so they could get pictures). How could they not know that over 60% of their test subject in both groups were suffering from this painful condition?!?! How poorly were these animals treated for this to be able to develop?!! But perhaps most confusing is why Howard (who is co-founder of a company that produces GM-free meats) would allow the release of a paper that questions the conditions in which his animals are kept?
This next point might sound like nit-picking, but I think it helps to show the target audience for this “research”. The paper does not use standard SI units, but instead measures weight in pounds. Everyone in the scientific community uses standard SI units in their research no matter where they come from. The only reason why I can think that they would choose to use imperial units is so that the data can be read and understood by american farmers and the general public who tend to use imperial measurements.
The paper contains four pictures that apparently show different levels of stomach inflammation (nil, mild, moderate and severe). The problem here is that the stomachs are not placed in these arbitrary groups by any quantifiable test, but instead from visual inspection. They base it on a “combination of the area of inflammation and level of redness and swelling”. However, according to Dr Robert Friendship, a swine health management specialist, “it was incorrect for the researchers to conclude that one group had more stomach inflammation then the other group because the researchers did not examine stomach inflammation”. According to Dr. Friendship, if they truly wanted to identify inflammation, they would have had to “take tissue samples and prepare histological slides and examine these samples for evidence of inflammatory response such as white blood cell infiltration and other changes to determine if there was inflammation”.
Even though there were examples of all four levels of stomach inflammation in both the GM and non-GM fed groups, the paper publishes examples of nil and mild inflammation from the non-GM fed group, and moderate and severe from the GM group. This might not seem important but it helps set the tone and gives the impression that the worst inflammation occurs in the GM fed group. This tone is carried on when the paper tries to explain that the inflammation is a result of the GM-feed containing BT delta endotoxins (Cry toxin). That would be the Bt delta endotoxin that is approved as a pesticide in organic farming, and has been used for around 100 years. In that time they have been extensively investigated and are considered to be more selective and safer for humans and non-target organisms than most conventional insecticides. But let’s pretend that the Bt toxins are responsible for the inflammation like the paper suggests. In that case, how can the paper explain the severe inflammation in the non-Gm group? It implies that the 0.4% GM-corn contamination is responsible ಠ_ಠ. WHAT IS THE POINT OF THIS RESEARCH! It shows nothing and by admitting this massive mistake, it has also admitted that it is self aware of it’s many failings.
This paper was the best the Green PolkaDot Box could throw at me as proof that GMOs are dangerous, and it shows NOTHING. The mistakes in the experiment are so blatantly obvious that I don’t believe anyone promoting this research even bothered to read it. The worst thing about this paper for me is not that NO effort was made to minimise the variables, or that they incorrectly equated redness to inflammation, or even that the control group was fed with contaminated corn. It was that they allowed 145 animals to live in conditions that resulted in the majority of them suffering from pneumonia. I have a really big problem with the people who allowed this to happen, and with people promoting this kind of “research” as if it is acceptable. Shame on you Green PolkaDot Box.