A French study was published in fall 2012 that links genetically modified food to tumors and to liver failure in certain rats. That study was retracted by its publisher this past November for being inconclusive in its findings. What does that mean?
In plain talk, it means the debate over GM crops continues. Most folks already know where they stand on GM crops, and nothing much is going to change either side’s minds.
The retraction for some reason made me think of a few phrases I’ve heard over the years, all from farmers. One farmer told me, “If you don’t want to get cancer, don’t drink water...almost everybody who’s ever gotten cancer drank water.”
He was being tongue-and-cheek there, but the debate over GM crops isn’t.
Back to the study. It got plenty of play and attention when it was published, at least from those who follow such things. This particular study centered on glyphosate and Roundup-resistant corn. The scientists exposed the rats to water that had herbicide in it and fed the rats all the Roundup-resistant corn they could eat. The female rats got tumors, big ones. The male rats’ livers failed them.
But here’s the rub: the rats used in the study were a kind that tends to get tumors anyway as they get older. Did the GM crops or herbicide cause the tumors in this study? Or the liver failure? The study’s authors claim they did.
At the time of publishing, anti-GMO folks liked the study. Others said it was flawed right out of the gate, particularly Monsanto, which as you know has a big dog in the fight over GM crops. Some European politicians found the support they wanted to continue to poo poo GM-related things, banning them even harder than they already do, I guess.
But was it bad science? Maybe, but it was good enough, or it met the peer-reviewed publication’s standards, to be published in the first place. Did pressure from those who support GM technology have a role in its retraction? Strange.
Good unbiased science has brought us a long way, particularly in agriculture. It has delivered tools and know-how to farmers who in no other way could produce the amount of food we need. The rest of us can just eat it and spend time figuring out other challenges.
I’m not going to go pro or con on GM crops here, either. I’ve seen what they can do to improve a farmer’s operation, making it more profitable and, if I can use this word, “sustainable.” But I’ve seen, too, that the overuse of a particular GM tool can lead to other management problems on a farm, tanking profits and putting sustainability into question.
But do GM crops cause cancer or other health risks? I don’t think so. We’ve been using them for quite some time. As far as I can read, no studies have conclusively linked them to major health risks. Of course, over-eating almost anything can lead to health problems.
I remembered another phrase as I read about the study’s retraction, a phrase a farmhand once told me as we walked by some insecticides. “Don’t get too close to that stuff or get any of it on you,” he said. “Your children will be born naked.”
He was right. My boy was born many years later without a stitch of clothes on him. I guess I got too close to that stuff.
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