Does This Retracted Study Mean Monsanto Foods Are Safe?

Perhaps the single most visible scientific study used to demonstrate possible health risks associated with consuming food produced by or containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, has been retracted. The infamous and controversial Seralini study appeared to show that rats fed two Monsanto (NYSE: MON  ) products -- GMO Roundup-tolerant corn and a Roundup herbicide -- developed massive tumors. Sensational images swept the media by storm and infuriated consumers. Then the rest of the scientific community began to weigh in.

Unfortunately for Seralini, numerous independent researchers from academic labs and international consumer safety institutions lined up against his interpretation of the results and the design of the experiment. They warned that the flawed study added no value to the discussion of health risks and GMO foods.

While the study has now been officially dismissed, it will be difficult to undo the damage in the minds of consumers. That got me thinking: What good is retracting a study if we don't take advantage of the opportunity to learn from it? Let's examine why the study was flawed, reiterate the importance of obtaining the approval of the scientific community, and discuss what it means and doesn't mean for Monsanto products and GMO foods.

Why the study was flawed
The Seralini study was flawed for several reasons that anyone can understand. First, the breed of rat used in the study, Sprague-Dawley, is widely known to be susceptible to cancer with age and an unrestricted diet. Previous studies using the same breed have shown that 45% of rats spontaneously developed tumors after 18 months. Seralini kept his animals alive for 24 months. Second, the study used only 10 rats of each sex for each experimental group. That is simply not a large enough population to rule out random chance of tumor occurrence. And lastly, some of Seralini's conclusions didn't agree with his own data. Male rats seemed to be protected from cancer by consuming GMOs, although the conclusion only stated:

In females, all treated groups died 2-3 times more than controls, and more rapidly. This difference was visible in 3 male groups fed GMOs.

These and other flaws were pointed out by a host of scientists that sent letters to the editor. Additionally, the following European scientific bodies rejected the paper:

  • Belgium, Biosafety Advisory Council
  • Germany, The Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety
  • Germany, The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment
  • Denmark, The National Food Institute
  • France, French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety
  • France, High Council For Biotechnology
  • Italy, National Institute of Health
  • Netherlands, Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority

There would have to be a major conspiracy among independent international scientists for there to be so much opposition to a single study.

Investment impact
The Seralini study was published in the Elsevier journal Food and Chemical Toxicology in November 2012. You would have missed some great returns had you decided to sell a position in Monsanto after reading the results:

MON Total Return Price Chart

MON Total Return Price data by YCharts

Biotech investors are often confronted with scientific data, especially in traditional biotech relating to pharmaceuticals. Rarely can a company spin trial results against the scientific community, and rarely does betting against the consensus turn out to be a wise long-term investment. Unfortunately, the Seralini study is another example of the dangers of making knee-jerk reactions before assessing the situation from a neutral standpoint.

Safe to eat?
The decision to retract the Seralini study does not mean that a relationship between GMO foods consumption and tumor development does not exist -- the study simply presented inconclusive results that did not support the conclusions. However, as numerous independent studies have shown, there is no credible link between the two. Thus, the retraction should help to ease any fears about the safety of GMO foods. It should also serve as an important reminder to the risks of putting too much faith in a scientific study that lacks the backing of the scientific community.

Do these events change the way you view GMOs? Let's discuss in the comments section below.

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Read/Post Comments (11) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 07, 2013, at 2:59 PM, eyeknonothing wrote:
  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 2:56 PM, Sirpipe wrote:

    Of coarse the story was retracted! The editor was fired and replaced with a former Monsanto employee! Just like the head of the FDA and a Supreme court Justice! Our whore government at it's best!

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 2:56 PM, DickHamilton wrote:

    "Thus, the retraction should help to ease any fears about the safety of GMO foods."

    this presents a false inference - but the absence (or poor quality and retraction) of evidence of harm is not evidence for the absence of harm. The best evidence for the absence of harm is that millions of people have consumed GMOs over many years, and there are no obvious health problems arising therefrom. People are not reporting increased sickness or disease in any way that consistently links GMOs and health problems. That, of course, doesn't mean that GMOs are proven to be safe, it simply means that they (or at least some of them) are not evidently dangerous, at least in the 'short' term. Remember how long it took to demonstrate conclusively that smoking caused lung cancer, and how tenuous the evidence, convincing and definite for statisticians, looked (and often continues to look) for many others.

  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 8:02 PM, SMBA wrote:

    Who wrote this article? Monsanto itself? Come on guys, get real. If this is the best you can do for research, I've got to question everything else on your site. Pretty much all research not funded by the biotech industry shows how damaging GM foods, plants and animals are to our human bodies, animals, crops, and the environment. When a study came out recently with damning evidence that biotech chemicals and pesticides are the cause of out alarming bee deaths, Monsanto bought the company. Gee, have you heard any more about that study? You're going to trust that a former Monsanto employee, now running this publication "retracts" a study which sheds doubt on his product. Come on let's see some real research. Oh, and I've got some swamp land in Florida you'll be interested in. Yep just take my word for it.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2013, at 7:32 PM, eyeknonothing wrote:

    Good news for those of us against GMO's and Monsanto:

    http://sustainablepulse.com/2013/12/09/monsanto-faces-usd-1-...

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2013, at 1:39 PM, Biloxi8 wrote:

    The toilet paper of Scientific publishing: Elsevier. What kind of journal would peer-review an article, accept it, than reject it a year later? No serious publisher would do that.

    But no worries, Round-up herbicide will kill you before the GMO food does! In Argentina where 44 million acres of GMO had been planted, cancer rates increased 5 fold since the introduction of Round up.

    Monsanto claimed that GMO crops will reduce the amount of herbicide used, but they actually increased 9 fold due to resistance.

    Keep burning those GMO fields!

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2013, at 8:07 PM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    @Biloxi8,

    (1) Argentina's nationwide cancer rates have not increased 5-fold since the introduction of biotech crops in 1996.

    (2) Health risks linked to pesticide use in the country are due to poor enforcement of agrichemical regulation, not any single company. AP reports that the country uses twice as many pesticides per acre than the United States.

    (3) The World Cancer Research Fund reports that Argentina's cancer rate ranks 46 out of 50 reported nations.

    http://www.wcrf-uk.org/research/cancer_statistics/world_canc...

    Best,

    Maxxwell

  • Report this Comment On December 11, 2013, at 10:35 AM, Biloxi8 wrote:

    The Argentine study specifically focused on Agricultural communities, not as the country overall.

    5 fold increase in cancer rates and 9 fold increase in herbicide use. If you think that 9 fold increase in herbicide use is a good thing, I suspect that you hold shares in Monsanto. Increase in herbicide use contradicts the marketing promise of decreased chemical usage.

    Where ever you look, search terms associated with Monsanto are COERCION< FRAUD< BULLYING< INTIMIDATION< LIES,FABRICATION.

    These Monsanto charlatans are exterminating all living creatures, and are causing mass starvation.

    It is about time that they are put out of business.

  • Report this Comment On December 11, 2013, at 12:07 PM, Biloxi8 wrote:

    FYI

    ..."40 Tons of GMO Sugar Beets were set ablaze in Eastern Oregon. FORTY TONS — the entire acreage of two full fields of crops in the ground were set ablaze over a three night period of time..."

    America and the EU is waking up finally!

    ..."New EU criminalized the planting of genetically modified crops of any kind, and it has repeatedly burned thousands of hectares of illegal ..."

  • Report this Comment On December 11, 2013, at 10:29 PM, getthefacts4 wrote:

    I work at Monsanto and I can tell you that neither nor any of my work colleagues would work ether if any of this was true.

    I don't speak for the company only my self. bare these facts in mind. There has not been a single hospitalization due to GM food in 17 years and probably a billion acres of crops planted. In that same time how many reports have we had of people dying from eating organic food contaminated by bacteria - many.

    Organic food is probably more toxic than GM food but is completely ignored.

    The internet is full of stories and that is what they are…. no facts just scare stories about GM food.

    Glyphosate is not as toxic as other herbicides, Bt is very safe (the EPA will never allow anyone to say it is completely safe), terminator genes are not in crops, Indians are not committing suicide any more than they used to and it is not caused by GM crops. The Monsanto cafe doesn't ban GM or organic food. Monsanto doesn't sue farmers who accidental get their crops mixed with Gm crops. Never has and never will. Bt crops do reduce insecticide use by massive amounts.

    The drought transgene does work

    Monsanto doesn't sell food. It labels all its GM products as GM. Monsanto doesn't control the food or seed supply it doesn't even sell 50% of the corn or soybean seed in the US.

    I could go on and on but many don't see facts as relevant.

    That's tough for a scientists to take

  • Report this Comment On December 11, 2013, at 10:32 PM, getthefacts4 wrote:

    I work at Monsanto and I can tell you that neither I nor any of my work colleagues would work there if any of this was true.

    I don't speak for the company only my self. Bear these facts in mind. There has not been a single hospitalization due to GM food in 17 years and probably a billion acres of crops planted. In that same time how many reports have we had of people dying from eating organic food contaminated by bacteria - many.

    Organic food is probably more toxic than GM food but this fact is completely ignored.

    The internet is full of stories and that is what they are…. no facts just scare stories about GM food.

    Glyphosate is not as toxic as other herbicides, Bt is very safe (the EPA will never allow anyone to say it is completely safe), terminator genes are not in crops, Indians are not committing suicide any more than they used to and it is not caused by GM crops. The Monsanto cafe doesn't ban GM or organic food. Monsanto doesn't sue farmers who accidental get their crops mixed with Gm crops. Never has and never will. Bt crops do reduce insecticide use by massive amounts.

    The drought transgene does work

    Monsanto doesn't sell food. It labels all its GM products as GM. Monsanto doesn't control the food or seed supply it doesn't even sell 50% of the corn or soybean seed in the US.

    Michael Taylor of the FDA doesn't work for Monsanto and is not on the take --- for goodness sake have some facts before you accuse people of somehow being influenced.

    I could go on and on but many don't see facts as relevant.

    That's tough for a scientists to take

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