GM Free Cymru

critique of the critics of the Seralini 2012 study

Date Added to website 22nd June 2015

A critique of the critics of the Seralini 2012 study

[Comment from GM-Free Cymru: this is a careful, considered and respectful analysis of the manner in which the GMO "establishment" sought to discredit the 2012 toxicology study written by Prof Seralini and colleagues, published in Food and Chemical Toxicology journal and then retracted for reasons that would have been laughable if the implications had not been so serious. Dr Loening resists the temptation to sink to the same level as Seralini's detractors, but he is pretty forthright in his criticisms of their methods and their motives. Recommended reading for all those who still believe that there is, and always has been scientific uncertainty, and that there is still a place in this angry world for civilised scientific discourse.]

Ulrich E. Loening (2015). "A challenge to scientific integrity: a critique of the critics of the GMO rat study conducted by Gilles-Eric Séralini et al. (2012)." Commentary.
Environmental Sciences Europe 2015, 27:13
doi:10.1186/s12302-015-0048-3 (open access)
Department of Zoology, and Director of the Centre for Human Ecology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK


This paper reviews the many criticisms of the publication by Seralini et al (2012) which has led to so much controversy, was retracted and then republished in this journal. Seralini et al found that a GM maize and its associated herbicide Roundup resulted in numerous chronic abnormalities in rats. The vehemence of the critics is not matched by their evidence; it is often based on entrenched assumptions and on mis-representing published material. The arguments have challenged normal healthy scientific dialogue, and appear to be driven by other motives. A further interpretation of Seralini et al's results on tumour formation is suggested. The probability that Seralini et al's results are significant is sufficient to justify further study.


The scientific/technological attitude

How is it that many distinguished gene transfer scientists have condemned Seralini et al. so vehemently on such a weak basis? The simplest answer is that theirs was such a bad paper but then why the vehemence? I have to conclude that long and deep engagement in the science of gene transfer (usually but incorrectly named “GMO”, as explained above) and safety testing has resulted in a blindly accepted consensus among a circle of gene engineering interests that makes any contradictory findings unacceptable. One is justified in asking as in [4] whether the criticism was motivated by something other than science, some conscious or unconscious imperative to defend the current COWDUNG (which is supported, one may note, by large corporate interests as also are the deniers of human-caused climate warming). A lack of consensus among scientists in general about the safety of GMOs was published in this journal while this paper was being written [28].

Had the criticisms been worthy of rigorous scientific dialogue, useful progress could have resulted. For example, if one can identify a difference between insertion of a DNA cassette and insertions due to recombination in meiosis or insertions of transposons, then one might discover new features about the mechanisms and control of gene action. But the effect of the criticisms was to “silence” the discussion and to inhibit the scientific enquiry that Seralini et al. had initiated.

If a GM crop threatens a potential problem, then the response should be to check that problem and then fix it. Responsible further study might lead to new discoveries. As it is a far from resolving antagonism towards GMOs, the critics have fostered mistrust among both the public and among many biologists. Their efforts will be counter-productive for the further development of the subject. The matter has now become so polarised that it threatens the rationality of further debate, just at a time when gene transfer methods are becoming more sophisticated.

One can now question whether and how the present gene transfer technologies should be further applied to agriculture. Thus, Arjo et al. write (perhaps surprisingly): “New findings that affect entrenched opinions and economic interests have their detractors, particularly those with a potential global impact. One of the key ethical principles of science states that “not all that can be done must be done” (Institut Borja de Bioètica 2012). Science itself is neutral, but individual scientists and their supporters inevitably have particular interests....” [29]

Precisely so, the great successes of applied molecular biology have led to their own shared and self-reinforced certainties, a COWDUNG or “Pie in the Sky” [30]. Much of modern science has indeed been applied on the basis of “I can, therefore I do” [31]. The “plurality of opinion” about GMOs may be due to the differing attitudes about scientific progress and its applications. A re-think is in order.

Seralini et al. [25] note that their paper was “a first step in the iterative investigation of the long-term health effects on mammals of these commercial products that should be replicated independently, as well as on developing mammals”. Their paper has to stand or fall through further experiment over time, but the criticisms reported above can only hinder progress and remain an indictment of the quality of the underlying scientific discourse.