Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Séralini's Latest: Will History Repeat Itself?

A translated and updated version of Wackes Seppi's* original article, at Imposteurs blog.

Early Media Hype, Late Publication...

Gilles-Éric Séralini's team have produced a new “study,” entitled “Major pesticides are more toxic to human cells than their declared active principles » [1]. They purported to have demonstrated that formulated pesticides were several hundred time more toxic than the corresponding active principles. As customary, the article challenged the regulatory procedures: “In conclusion, our results challenge the relevance of the ADI [Acceptable Daily Intake], because it is calculated today from the toxicity of the AP alone in vivo. An “adjuvant factor” of at least a reduction by 100 can be applied to the present calculation of the ADI if this is confirmed by other studies in vivo.” A reduction factor of 100! Pulled out of their hats, just like that!

The “study” has now been published in Biomed Research International, a journal from the Hindawi group. The paper was accepted on 11 December 2013, and it took some seven weeks before it was provisionally published in a remote place of Hindawi's website. But, as soon as this was done, the media campaign was launched by Mr. Séralini with the complacent assistance of the Agence France Presse (AFP) [2]; it included the inescapable Mayday! Mayday! of an organisation which thrives on the fear of pesticides, Générations Futures [3].

It took another month or so before the paper was published in final form.

The fact is that, having learned of the (then forthcoming) publication of the paper, Prof. Ralf Reski from the University of Freiburg-im-Breisgau tendered a much publicized resignation from his position as editor of Biomed Research International. He did not mince his words in his e-mail: “I do not want to be connected to a journal that provides [Séralini] a forum for such kind of agitation” [4].

Prof. Reski stated that he is not a toxicologist but found it difficult to claim an importance for whole organisms from a study on cell cultures. Further, he found political claims in that paper that were not covered by the results of that study. He argued that after the retracted “rat study” any of Mr. Séralini's papers should be scrutinized with extra care and that the sequence of events (a mere six weeks between submission and acceptance of the paper and a handling editor at the journal obviously not well established in the scientific community) was enough to make him suspicious [5].

The message was well received by the publisher. According to a tweet from Prof. Reski, they thanked him for his feedback and “promised to look closer at this one” [6]

But, now that the paper is published, many onlookers who can boast common sense (that is sufficient to form an opinion on the paper) will have to conclude that their expectations were not met.

To keep it short, the research is flawed in many respects. It reproduces in large measure the protocol of an earlier work, “Glyphosate formulations induce apoptosis and necrosis in human umbilical, embryonic and placental cells”, 2008, extending it to nine pesticides [7]. That work had been scrutinized and heavily criticized by the French Agence française de sécurité sanitaire des aliments (AFSSA), a predecessor of today's ANSES [8]. The authors of the new paper chose to ignore the criticism levelled at the methodology underpinning the previous one and at the conclusions. The paper is also a mix of (pseudo)science and political manifesto. Even the title – something one would expect to see on a tabloid's front page – is objectionable.

Harassment by Industry

The provisional paper was only accessible with difficulty, and the media did not really bite into the hype. It therefore, unsurprisingly, did not prompt the same outcry as the previous, infamous and now retracted paper, “Longterm toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerantgenetically modified maize”. There were nevertheless some damning comments [4].

Prof. Michael Coleman, a toxicologist at Aston University in Birmingham, United Kingdom, considered that “there are issues in terms of its design and execution, as well as its overall tone," adding: “Anything is toxic in high concentration, the question is whether the toxicity is relevant to the levels of the agents we are ingesting. This paper does not seem to address this issue at all.” Prof. Martin van den Berg, a toxicologist at the Utrecht University, the Netherlands, said: “The endpoints observed are so general that we could probably find the same kind of toxicity with lemon juice or grapefruit extract.

Mr. Séralini replied: “I recognize the remarks of industry in that.

That industry is assuredly not the one which financed his work!

No Conflicts of Interest? Really?

At this point we should mention that the provisional version of the paper had no conflict of interests statement. We flagged this on the Imposteurs website [9], venturing that our previous criticism might have borne some fruit [10].

Alas! The final version states: “The authors declare that there is no conflict of interests regarding the publication of this paper.

For any rational mind, this implies conflicts of interests in areas other than publication. Such a statement is no real improvement over past no-conflict declarations, not being straightforward.

The authors have acknowledged “the Regional Council of Low Normandy for Robin Mesnage fellowship and the Charles Leopold Mayer (FPH) and Denis Guichard Foundations, together with CRIIGEN, for structural support. They are equally thankful to Malongo, Lea Nature, and the JMG Foundation for their help.” What do “structural support” and “help” mean? For those who are not familiar with French circumstances, the two first-named foundations are heavily loaded, ideologically, and the two companies are in the organic and fairtrade business.

And Meanwhile, the Petitions...

Meanwhile, two petitions in support of the Séralini team stagger on. They are hilarious for normally formatted minds...

Retracting Séralini Study Violates Science and Ethics [11]

At the time of writing, the petition launched on the Institute of Science in Society website soon after the retraction of the rats paper, at the end of November 2013, has reached 1215 signatures by scientists and people purporting to be scientists, and 3526 by lay people. “Retracting Séralini Study Violates Science and Ethics”, it says. How bombastic! The retraction is also “censorship of scientific research, knowledge, and understanding, an abuse of science striking at the very heart of science and democracy, and science for the public good.” No less...

And, in support of the retraction of the retraction, the authors of the petition explain: “Elsevier is already notorious for having published 6 fake journals sponsored by unnamed pharmaceutical companies made to look like peer reviewed medical journals.” There are obviously better ways to convince an interlocutor than publicizing its turpitudes!

The signatories also pledge to boycott Elsevier. The publisher must be shivering with fear!

Among the “scientist” signatories are M. Robin Mesnage, a co-author of the retracted paper; Mr. Christian Vélot, a long-time anti-GM campaigner and member of the scientific council of CRIIGEN (which played a pivotal role in the “study”), whose steadfast support should be noted (without any irony, other friends of Mr. Séralini are ducking out) ; and the famous “ecofeminist” Vandana Shiva who describes herself as “Ph D Quantum physics winner of Right Livelihood award numerous other prizes honorary degrees from numerous universities worldwide, Director of Navdanya, New Delhi, India” [12].

It is only fair for Mr. Séralini and colleagues, who published papers on plant extracts protecting human cells against xenobiotic effects, particularly from glyphosate-based herbicides [10], to receive the support of medical practitioners, some in quackery. For instance Robert Abbruzzese “D C Chiropractor Nutrition Wellness Educator, Abbruzzese Wellness, Briarcliff Manor, United States,” or Douglas Amell, “B Sc N D , Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors, Moose Jaw Saskatchewan, Canada.

The “scientists” section is also little bothered by credentials. The top part of the alphabetical list includes Elizabeth Alfieri, “I have been studying independently for 30 years , concerned citizen, Rochester, United States,” Mike Arthur, “i dont want to eat gmo, United States”, or Walter Ashton, “TEXTILES, Leyland, United Kingdom.”

Mr. Jeffrey Smith, bragging as “[t]he leading consumer advocate promoting healthier non GMO choices Jeffrey Smith s meticulous research documents how biotech companies continue to mislead legislators and safety officials to put the health of society at risk and the environment in peril , Institute for Responsible Technology, Iowa, United States,” at least had the decency to sign as a “non-scientist”.

Some celebrities, as famous as Bruce Banner, aka the Incredible Hulk [13], or as mysterious as Cain Abel, “Biology, CNRS, Paris, France,” also gave their blessing.

But rest assured: following an alleged cyber-attack, “We have put in extra checks and our many friends are reporting them to us.

Retraction of Séralini GMO study is attack on scientific integrity [14]

Another petition was launched on an ad hoc website, endsciencecensorship, on 29 January 2014, purportedly by a group of “concerned citizens and scientists.” How should we understand this? Aren't the scientists also citizens? Nitpicking apart, the “about” page of the site states that the editor of the website is Ms. Claire Robinson who also runs and, and contributes to Welcome information; potential signatories can thus learn with whom they would rub elbows.

The list of the 41 first petitioners includes some prominent names of the anti-GM movement; it includes Mr. Christian Vélot [15]. Some of the following names are also quite interesting. The counter is now at 140, ticking rather slowly. Equally interesting is the list of absentees... Where are for instance the members of the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER)?

The signatories claim that the “Journal retraction of Séralini GMO study is invalid and an attack on scientific integrity.” A study which is “pioneering”... Well, to keep out of the scientific controversy, publishing pictures of three rats having been kept alive beyond reason to have them grow enormous tumours, without photo of a control, is indeed pioneering.

To challenge the retraction, the authors cherry-picked from the convoluted writings of Dr. A. Wallace Hayes, in particular “No definitive conclusions could be drawn from the inconclusive data”, arguing essentially that “no definitive conclusions” does not fit into the concept of “findings [that] are unreliable, either as a result of misconduct (e.g. data fabrication) or honest error (e.g. miscalculation or experimental error)” of the COPE Guidelines [16]. In fact, Dr. Hayes had made it (relatively) plain that the entire paper could not stand, writing in particular: “In conclusion, FCT has retracted this article because our thorough investigations revealed that its methods were scientifically flawed. The low number of animals, and the strain selected, rendered the conclusions unreliable. No definitive conclusions could be drawn from the inconclusive data” [17].

Whoever signs the petition thus obliterates the clear match between COPE's reference to “experimental error” (an example of “honest error”) and Dr. Hayes' “methods were scientifically flawed.” And, of course, the vastly predominant opinion of the qualified scientific community on the (absence of) merits of the rats paper.

Other aspects of the paper are equally questionable, if not grotesque. Maybe this is the reason for the small number of signatories.

Bis repetita?

The retracted “Long term toxicity...” was the stepping stone of one of the most formidable pseudoscience-based political and media campaigns (exclusive articles in papers, two books, two “documentaries”...). For Food & Chemical Toxicology, it was also a means to gain worldwide notoriety. There is reason to believe that the FCT management procrastinated with the re-examination of the paper, which had become unavoidable in view of the unprecedented furore, until the ratio of benefits from media attention over drawbacks from increasing bad reputation within the scientific community turned negative.

Aren't we experiencing a kind of repeat?

The editor of Biomed Research International could not ignore that Mr. Séralini's reputation was, to say the least, nefarious. He was warned about the deficiencies of the paper. Comments such as those from Profs. Coleman and van den Berg could not be taken lightly. Yet, he chose to go ahead. Worse, we must take it from Prof. Reski's tweets of 17 February 2014 that the publisher would welcome critiques as letters to the editor. This begs the question whether he prefers to sacrifice scientific relevance for notoriety.

In any event, the result is that it is now up to the scientific community to deconstruct a political manifesto camouflaged as a scientific paper.

*  Nom de plume for a retired agronomist and former international civil servant.

[2]  See for instance:


Conclusions 1 and 4 read:
1.  The conclusions are solely based upon in vitro tests on non-validated, non-representative cellular models (in particular tumour or transformed cells) that are directly exposed to extremely high concentrations of substances under growing conditions that do not respect normal physiological conditions. [...]

4.  The authors over-interpret their results in relation to potential consequences on human health, in particular on the basis of an unsubstantiated in vitro-in vivo extrapolation. [...] the concentrations used in these tests would imply a huge exposure to glyphosate to obtain such cytotoxic effects on humans.

[12] There is an excellent recension of her « Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development » at:

[15] That list includes a name which a former international civil servant can only find unwelcome. May it be recalled here that the Standards of Conduct for the International Civil Service state:

While their personal views remain inviolate, international civil servants do not have the freedom of private persons to take sides or to express their convictions publicly on controversial matters, either individually or as members of a group, irrespective of the medium used. This can mean that, in certain situations, personal views should be expressed only with tact and discretion.

No comments:

Post a Comment