The Academy of the XL and scientific communication: the G.E. Séralini case

A recent article published in Food and Chemical Toxicology by the research group led by Gilles-Eric Séralini at the University of Caen [1] has had a wide echo in the media. According to this article, the GM NK603 maize, modified genetically so as to be resistant to the glyphosate ROUNDUP herbicide, has tumorigenic and toxic effects on rats just as the herbicide itself. Notably, the GM NK603 maize has been approved by the EU for human consumption and animal feed. The interpretation of the results given by Séralini et al. was challenged by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and by the Institutions for Risk Assessment in Germany and Australia-New Zealand. These Authorities considered the experimental design and the methodologies used as inadequate to support the conclusions drawn by the Authors and requested additional experiments. Moreover, the inadequacy of the Séralini study urged the European Federation of Biotechnology to ask for its retraction.

The Authors, while disregarding the criticisms of the competent Institutions, promoted an intense and cunning advertising campaign, presented a book and a TV documentary on the work and organized a press conference. The method used in this promotional activity is most disturbing. Thus, a group of journalists was handed over the manuscript prior to its publication, was requested not to discuss the data with other researchers before the press conference, and was menaced a penalty that equaled the cost of the study. This way of diffusing scientific data was blamed and stigmatized by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) which considers it as inappropriate for an objective and high quality scientific debate.

The biologists of the National Academy of Sciences called Academy of the XL join six French National Academies – of Agriculture, Pharmacy, Medicine, Sciences, Technologies, Veterinary – in considering a further assessment of Séralini’s research as unnecessary and in judging the proposal of precise recommendations on the scientific, deontological and social aspects created by the above-mentioned research as mandatory.

The biologists of the Academy of the XL therefore:

– confirm their trust in the Institutions in charge of the controls, endorsements and authorizations that considered unanimously the experimental methodologies and the material employed in the study as inadequate;

– note that the advertising campaign, based on data that do not have a recognized scientific value, resulted in a new fear wave on possible OGM risks also in Italy;

– wish for an ample debate on all scientific studies and ask researchers to respect the deontological code that requires legitimate work hypotheses not to be presented as sufficient results to invoke the precaution principle;

– urge the Italian media to report objectively the conclusions of the scientific studies whenever these are reached and to avoid announcements that may arouse fear and apprehension in the public.

[1] Seralini et al., 2012, Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup tolerant genetically modified maize. Food Chem. Toxicol.