Science in Society Archive

Elsevier Climb Down over Séralini Retraction but IARC Retraction Next for Monsanto

Elsevier has quietly distanced itself from its misdeed, but Monsanto is outrageously calling for another retraction Prof Peter Saunders

In December 2013 ISIS wrote an open letter [1] (Open Letter on Retraction and Pledge to Boycott Elsevier, SiS 1) addressed to Wallace Hayes, then the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) copied to the publisher Elsevier protesting against the totally unwarranted unilateral retraction of a paper from a team headed by Gilles-Eric Séralini at the University of Caen [2] (Retracting Séralini Study Violates Science and Ethics. It reported that laboratory rats were harmed both by Monsanto’s NK603 maize that had been genetically modified to tolerate Roundup herbicide, and also by the herbicide itself.

We invited scientists and others to join us in refusing to publish, review or do editorial work for Elsevier, or to purchase any of its products. In the event, 1392 scientists and 4019 non-scientists from 99 different countries signed the letter. It appears that our efforts and others (notably Scientists for Global Responsibility [3]) have had an effect. There has been a shake-up in the editorial board of FCT, though it seems to have happened without an announcement, and neither the media nor even those scientific journals that had reported on the original story have picked it up.

A brief recap

In our letter, we expressed great concern at the journal’s unilateral retraction of the Séralini paper, which had reported the results of a comprehensive feeding trial. Laboratory rats fed with genetically modified (GM) maize tolerant to Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide with or without Roundup spraying, or simply fed Roundup with non-GM maize, died earlier than the controls fed on non-GM maize. The study was designed to test for toxicity and followed the same OECD-approved protocols that Monsanto had used in their trials, except that it lasted for two years instead of the usual 90 days. It did indeed find toxicity in both Roundup and GM maize, as well as an increase in the number of tumours in the rats.

On the day the paper was published, the pro-GM Science Media Centre in the UK orchestrated an attack on it [4, 5]. The criticisms were soon rebutted but the responses were not published in the English language media though some did appear in France.

It is not unusual for an industry to use whatever means it can to oppose scientific results that might affect its profits. We need only think of the long battles fought by the tobacco and asbestos companies to discredit research showing how dangerous their products are [6], or the funds poured by the oil industry into blocking any action to restrict the use of fossil fuels [7]. We were dismayed but not surprised that the pro-GM lobby did its best to ensure that all most people heard about Séralini’s results were the negative comments.

What happened next did surprise us, however. Whipping up a storm of negative publicity about the paper was evidently not enough; it had to be expunged altogether from the record. So on 28 November, 2013, Food and Chemical Toxicology announced it was retracting the article [8].

This was a highly unusual move. Scientific articles are retracted from time to time but almost always at the request of the authors, usually because after publication they discover a fundamental error that invalidates their results. It is very rare for an article to be retracted by a journal without the agreement of the author and indeed the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), of which FCT is a member, states that there are only three grounds on which this can be done:

1. Clear evidence that the findings are unreliable due to misconduct or honest error,

2. Plagiarism or redundant publication,

3. Unethical research.

When challenged, Hayes admitted that none of those criteria applied in the article retracted. Instead, they justified their decision on the grounds that “the results presented (while not incorrect) are inconclusive.” That’s a spurious objection. In the first place, results in science are intrinsically inconclusive; that’s the very nature of the subject. If the results in the paper had been so inconclusive as not to warrant publication, that was for the reviewers to decide; but it had passed peer review and was accepted by the editor. Furthermore, FCT had published papers on similar trials (for example [9]), that were less conclusive than Séralini’s. The difference, of course, was that their conclusions were favourable to the biotech industry.

The real reason was more sinister. Prior to the retraction, FCT created a new position on their editorial board, Associate Editor for Biotechnology, and appointed to it Richard Goodman, a former employee of Monsanto.

A quiet step-down for Elsevier

Yet now, after some delay Elsevier have responded. You won’t have read about this in the media, but if you visit the FCT website [10] you will find that there is a new Chief Editor, José L Domingo. Wallace Hayes has been moved to the new post of Editor-in-Chief for Strategy and Vision, which sounds like being kicked upstairs. And both Richard Goodman and the post of Associate Editor for Biotechnology have vanished from the editorial board. We understand this happened in January 2015, but there was no formal announcement.

FCT has not reinstated the paper, still less apologised for the retraction. Not only does this leave in place the unwarranted slur on the reputation of Séralini and his group, it also allows the pro-GM lobby to continue describing the paper as ‘discredited’ and therefore to be ignored, even though the journal has accepted that no proper grounds for retraction were met.

On the other hand, the retracted paper was soon republished in Environmental Sciences Europe, a Springer journal [11], so it remains part of the scientific literature.

Monsanto demands IARC retraction

Monsanto, however, has reared its ugly head again.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the WHO, has just classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” [12] after its latest assessment, and found that “there is convincing evidence that glyphosate also can cause cancer in laboratory animals.” In fact, the assessment also revealed that the EPA had suppressed data on glyphosate’s carcinogenic potential that had existed since the 1980s (see [13] Glyphosate and Cancer, SiS 62).

The Monsanto-led biotech industry responded promptly to cast aspersions on the quality of the IARC assessment (see [14] Glyphosate ‘Probably Carcinogenic to Humans’ Latest WHO Assessment, SiS 66). Monsanto has even called on IARC to retract its assessment [15]. But Aaron Blair, scientist emeritus at the National Cancer Institute, who chaired the 17 member Working Group of the IARC in assessing glyphosate, robustly defended the decision, which is “appropriately based on current science” [16].

Civil society is already outraged that Monsanto was allowed to lead the corrupt re-approvals of glyphosate in US and Europe [14] [17] (Scandal of Glyphosate Re-assessment in Europe, SiS 63). The IARC should on no account accede to Monsanto’s request for retraction.

Article first published 30/03/15



References

  1. “Open Letter on Retraction and Pledge to Boycott Elsevier.” I-SIS Report, 4 December, 2013. http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Open_letter_to_FCT_and_Elsevier.php
  2. Séralini G-E, Mesnage R, Gress S, Defarge N, Malatesta M, Hennequin D and  de Vendômois JS (2012).  Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food and Chemical Toxicity. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.fct.2012.08.005
  3. “Open letter on pro-GM bias at academic journal.” Scientists for Global Responsibillity, 1 October, 2013. http://www.sgr.org.uk/resources/open-letter-pro-gm-bias-academic-journal
  4. Science Media Centre press release: Expert Reaction to GM maize causing tumours in rats. 19 September 2012, http://www.sciencemediacentre.org/pages/press_releases/12-09-19_gm_maize_rats_tumours.htm
  5. “Shock troops check ‘poor’ GM study”, Paul Jump, Times Higher Education, 4 October 2012.
  6. Harramoës P, Gee D, MacGarvin M, Stirling A, Keys J, Wynne B and Guedes Vaz S (2002). Late lessons from early warnings: the precautionary principle 1896-2000 European Environment Agency, Copenhagen. ISBN 92-9167-323-4. http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/environmental_issue_report_2001_22
  7. “Obama administration tightens federal rules on oil and gas fracking”, Joby Warrick, 20 March 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/03/20/obama-administration-tightens-rules-on-oil-and-gas-fracking/
  8. Hayes, A.W., 2014b. Retraction notice to ‘‘Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize’’. Food Chem. Toxicol. 63, 244.
  9. Zhang, M., Zhuo, Q., Tian, Y., Piao, J., Yang, X., 2014. Long-term toxicity study on transgenic rice with Cry1Ac and sck genes. Food Chem. Toxicol. 63, 76–83.
  10. Food and Chemical Toxicology. Editorial Board. http://www.journals.elsevier.com/food-and-chemical-toxicology/editorial-board/
  11. Séralini G-E, Mesnage R, Gress S, Defarge N, Malatesta M, Hennequin D and  de Vendômois JS (2012).  Republished study: long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Environmental Sciences Europe 2014, 26:14. http://www.enveurope.com/content/26/1/14
  12. “IARC Monographs Volume 112: evaluation of five organophosphate insecticides and herbicides.” International Agency for Research on Cancer press release, 20 March 2015. http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/iarcnews/pdf/MonographVolume112.pdf 24/03/15
  13. Ho MW. Glyphosate and cancer. Science in Society 62, 12-14, 2014.
  14. Ho MW and Swanson N. Glyphosate ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ latest WHO assessment. Science in Society 66 (to appear) 2015.
  15. “Monsanto asks World Health Organization to “retract” cancer link”, Anthony Gucciardi, 25 March 2015, http://www.globalresearch.ca/monsanto-asks-world-health-organization-to-retract-cancer-link/5438726
  16. “Scientist defends report linking herbicide to cancer”, Carey Gillam, Reuters, 27 March 2015, http://www.stltoday.com/business/local/scientist-defends-report-linking-herbicide-to-cancer/article_34139dc6-4aa7-5bcc-af1e-4c039389642e.html
  17. Swanson N and Ho MW. Scandal of glyphosate reassessment in Europe. Science in Society 63, 8-9, 2014.

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There are 4 comments on this article so far. Add your comment above.

Todd Millions Comment left 1st April 2015 09:09:48
Its regrettable that the WHO is at this point-so soiled.Trial via fact- (A)H1n1;no strain testing when they aided a panic quite profitable for contaminated vaccine makers a few years back.(B)Ebola serum/vaccine-whatever else treatment sera was developed decades ago in the Soviet Union.Its unpatentable-unlike Zmapp,who's development by a partnership front betwist Monsanto and Renoylds Tabacco-needs too be more widely known.Addressing these items is needed-First. To begin restoring WHO standards and credibility.I expect such a battle will be ongoing.Its not just our journal publishers,they are only one part of the problem.

Susie Greaves Comment left 30th March 2015 21:09:29
Once more, congratulations to Isis. It is at moments like this that I am so grateful to you, and of course to Seralini and his team. You came to the aid of independent science once again, and we should all celebrate this rare event...Monsanto will (and should) lose face over this.

Christine Comment left 1st April 2015 09:09:56
Just recently a good book was published about the scenes behind legality of GMO foods, it is worth spreading. It is even a great source of knowledge for all the or not properly informed or denying pro-GMO biologists: Altered Genes, Twisted Truth: How the Venture to Genetically Engineer Our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government, and Systematically Deceived the Public Paperback – March 20, 2015 by Steven M. Druker A pdb data base is a great resource for tracking drug 'design' using many important essential biological single molecules. Anything what is related to binding of glyphosate to bacterial EPSPS enzymes, is connected with many effects of these enzymes being produced by our own gut bacteria. From there, it is only a small step towards disaster, including cancer. Not for nothing Monsanto patented glyphosate as an antibiotic...

algimantas k bronisas Comment left 16th April 2015 19:07:20
MONSANTO IS GUILTY OF POISONING THE HUMAN AND DOMESTICATED ANIMAL FOOD CHAIN AND DESTROYING BIODIVERSITY AROUND THE WORLD....THEIR GOAL IS NOT TO FEED THE WORLD,BUT TO SELL TOXIC CHEMICALS WHICH KILL ALL SEED CROPS NOT GENETICALLY MODIFIED TO RESIST THEIR TOXIC POISONS.....VORACIOUS CRIMINAL GREED.....GLYPHOSATE LIKE DDT,MALATHION,ORGANOPHOSPHATES AND OTHER CARCINOGENS AND NERVE POISONS....HAS BEEN EXPOSED.....MONSANTO IS NOW "DUMPING" TONS OF THIS CHEMICAL IN SOUTH AMERICA ,INDIA,PAKISTAN AND ASIA BECAUSE ITS ABOUT TO BE BANNED...ITS BEING SOLD UNDER HUNDREDS OF DIFFERENT NAMES WITH ADDITIVES.....SO ITS DIFFICULT TO IDENTIFY AS GLYPHOSATE.......MONSANTO SHOULD BE TRIED IN THE INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT FOR FOOD TERRORISM AND GENOCIDE....CONSUMERS SHOULD BOYCOTT ALL PRODUCTS MADE BY MONSANTO OR ITS SHELL CORPORATIONS

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