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 That review is complete, and Austria has withdrawn the study from consideration as to the safety of genetically modified crops.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.

Anastasia Bodnar

Written by Anastasia Bodnar

Anastasia Bodnar serves as the Policy Director of Biology Fortified, Inc. She is a science communicator and multidisciplinary risk analyst with a career in federal service. She has a PhD in plant genetics and sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University.

8 comments

  1. One of the odd things about this study is that it can’t possibly have occured at all. Independant researchers aren’t allowed to do any research on GM material right?

  2. Good catch, Anastasia. We need to let our friends at Grist, Non-GMO project, etc know about this withdrawal. One of the problems with the way media often works (traditional or otherwise) is that the conclusion rarely makes as big of a splash as the prelude.
    Who is willing to bet real $$$ against my notion that Jeffrey Smith will still promote it? Maybe add a touch of government cover-up.

  3. I was in discussions on this work when it came out, I remember the drama. One of the points I made at the time is that if this was true — this would have been noticed by breeders of laboratory rodents years ago. Obviously the animal chow is going to have corn and soybean meal that are not “organic” so to speak, right?
    These are production facilities that would be very sensitive to fertility decreases. They would have investigated, and word would get out. I used to work at The Jackson Lab, I assure you they would have noticed.
    In fact, there was a time (I think in the mid-late 90s) where there was a batch of animal chow in which the vitamin E had been accidentally left out. It started to have impact and be noticed by animal facilities. When they traced the issue and added back E, everything was fine. Soon after most of the animal scientists I know started taking supplemental E, actually…it was funny. If you want to look at chow ingredients, the RGD page here links to several food providers: http://rgd.mcw.edu/wg/strain-maintenance
    But it’s not just lab animals — but they would have been kind of a front line. Massive drops in fertility of agricultural animals would have been noticed as well.
    I asked anyone for stats on fertility drops in production animals. Nobody seemed to have any….Imagine.

  4. They’re part of the conspiracy. If Putzai or Seralini had been looking after the animals you can bet the coverup would have been blown.

  5. “They’re part of the conspiracy. If Putzai or Seralini had been looking after the animals you can bet the coverup would have been blown.”
    Only after all the animals had died of mysterious lesions ….

  6. As more animals died in the ISO control groups, do we infer that we should ban non-GM food as it causes death in rats?

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