Update on Austrian feeding study

Back in November 2008, Velimirov, Zentek, and fellow researchers conducted a long-term study where they fed genetically modified maize to rats. They concluded, in their non-peer-reviewed press release, that the maize caused reduced fertility. It had great potential because it’s true, there haven’t been very many long term studies. Unfortunately, they did not meet that potential. The scientific community ignored the study because it just wasn’t good science.

Rat by Big Fat Rat via Flickr.

There were quite a few articles debunking the problematic study. A great source is David Tribe’s post The curious incident of silence about mistreated animals that showed how animals died in this study (in all groups, including the control) at far higher rates than is typical in rodent feeding studies. The Austrian researchers may not have had proper living conditions for their charges.

They also seem to have had some problems with simple mathematical calculations, as shown in Review of Zentek paper by James Lamb, an independent reviewer who was asked to look at the paper by Monsanto.

The German government site GMO Safety questioned the study in Does GM maize cause impotence? EFSA experts voice doubts and “GM maize causes impotence” Or: How a scientific study is used for political motives.

“Prof. Zentek himself declares his study as a preliminary draft which needs to be scrutinized and only partially delivers conclusive results.” according to the article Did the Monsanto Hybrid Transgenic Maize lower the fertility of mice in a multi generation feeding experiment? by the Public Research and Regulation Initiative (among other articles).

Not deterred by the critical analysis of scientists, Greenpeace and other activist groups led the charge with headlines like Mice! Forget about birth control – try GE maize instead! and “news” sites like Grist posted headlines like GM-OH, NO! Long-term study: GMOs lower fertility in mice. It’s a shame that they didn’t bother to investigate further before fearmongering.

The Austrian government was happy to ignore the critical reviews as well, but other officials in the EU were more cautious, calling for a review of this science-by-press-release. That review is complete, and Austria has withdrawn the study from consideration as to the safety of genetically modified crops.

Details of Austria’s withdrawl of the study as well as some background can be found in Austria withdraws study on the long-term consequences of GM maize on GMO Compass.