One study does not a swallowable conclusion make

September 23, 2012

The Green Party wants genetically modified corn to be removed from sale in New Zealand on the strength of a study showing it may be causing cancer and other health problems.

But one study doesn’t make a conclusion that should be swallowed unquestioned.

. . .   yes indeed we really would like to know whether Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn (maize to Europeans) does cause health problems. We don’t think it does for several reasons. The multiple studies that have been done before looking at this very question for example. The fact that hundreds of millions of animals have been fed the stuff for years without anyone noticing anything odd about said animals. We’ve even got a nice natural experiment going on. Those humans in the Americas (North, South and Central) have been eating GM corn in vast quantities for a number of years now. Those humans in Europe have not. Again, we have not noted any difference in disease prevalence among the two groups that cannot be and is not explained by other factors. . .

Other scientists questioned both the method and the result, concluding it was not good science.

Why publicise it then?

. . . But having said, with all the politesse possible, that this is not good science, why then leap to the idea that it is politics? For the fairly obvious reason that is is most certainly being used politically:

A study claims that rats fed with GM corn that was produced by US firm Monsanto had suffered tumors and multiple organ damage. Following the study’s publication, thousands of protesters went out to the streets in Brussels on Wednesday, calling for an overhaul of food policy in Europe.

”Those in the food industry who said there wasn’t a risk lied, they didn’t tell people the truth. Europe’s independent food agencies now have to act. It is absolutely essential that we kickstart the debate and re-examine GM food. The new evidence shows how dangerous GM crops are for human health,” said Green MEP Jose Bove.

. . .  So what could it actually be, this political point that people want to make? SFGate makes the connection:

California Right to Know, the group pushing California’s Prop. 37 to require labeling of genetically engineered foods, pounced on the study. Spokesperson Stacy Malkan said the most “important and shocking part of it is that this is the first available long-term study on GMOs, which have been in the food supply for the better part of 20 years.”

Oh. Yes, that is true, isn’t it? There’s a proposition on the ballot in California this fall that would lead to the mandatory labeling of GM containing food. And as Mark Bittman has pointed out, the hope and aim is that so California, so the nation.

And so in New Zealand where the Green Party was so quick to seize on the opportunity without worrying about the science.


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