October 2015
Professor Gilles-Éric Séralini
Photo Creative Commons
COWDUNG is an acronym for 'conventional wisdom of the dominant group'. It was coined by the geneticist who introduced the idea of 'epigenetic' effects (events connected to genes which change their expression) to a dominant group whose wisdom was entrenched in a mechanistic one-gene-one-protein dogma.

Scientists who dare to think outside the prevailing consensus of their colleagues have traditionally been condemned or ignored and suffered years of opposition. But, scientists who have cast doubt on the integrity of GM crops have been vilified beyond any possible scientific justification.

When Professor Séralini and his team published results of a life-long rat feeding-study reporting that Roundup herbicide and Roundup Resistant GM maize each contributed to chronic disease and early formation of tumours, there was immediate and widespread criticism and press coverage [1,2,3]. Indeed, the speed of the response itself was such as to raise doubts about whether they could possibility represent a disinterested scientific exchange.

Ulrich E. Loening, former reader in the Department of Zoology and Director of the Centre for Human Ecology, Edinburgh University, questioned whether the arguments and assumptions underlying the criticisms levied on Séralini's study were valid, and whether sufficient substantive evidence exists to lend credibility to his detractors.

Analysis of the 'errors' pointed out by Séralini's critics led Loening to conclude they were unaccountably guilty of misreporting, misunderstanding, unwarranted assumptions, and misreading of the data: the most substantial and oft-repeated criticisms were either false or could easily be answered.

Although Loening agrees that additional information would have enriched the paper, and could have been provided in a supplementary online paper as is now common practice, the critics in truth selected mostly minor or irrelevant matters to take issue with.

In particular, Loening points out that inappropriately redefining the end-point of the very embarrassing tumour observations simply ignored the crucial data. Like humans, the strain of rats used by Séralini tends to develop tumours in old age. Critics highlighted that the incidence of tumours at end-of-life was indeed similar in treated and control rats. However, tumour-incidence during the lifespan clearly demonstrated an early onset of tumours in Roundup- and GM-maize-fed rats. Neglecting the timing of tumour appearance, the evidence which is "significant and should not be overlooked", was a universal error of the critics.

Much was made by critics of Séralini's refusal to accept the adequacy of the 'standard', now conventional, 90-day feeding trial in favour of a life-long study. This particular COWDUNG was spawned by Monsanto who seems to have arbitrarily decided on the protocol for use its applications to market products: the 90-day feeding trial has since been adopted by others without question or any apparent justification. To put things in perspective, a 90-day rat feeding trial could be compared with a tobacco smoking trial in human teenagers which is stopped when they're in their 20s: this has no chance whatsoever of picking up cancers.

All in all, Séralini's pro-GM critics seem to have done their cause a great disservice: they have fostered mistrust among both the public and among many biologists; they have silenced discussion on GM concerns, and, have inhibited further scientific enquiry.


COWDUNG isn't a recent habit of scientists, and Prof. Séralini is far from being it's only victim. In the decades before GM crops became all the rage, scientists presenting evidence of horrific harm from fashionable agri-pesticides (produced by the same companies now feeding the world GM crops) were being treated just like Séralini. If you've the stomach for it, read E. G. Vallianatos Poison Spring - the secret history of pollution and the the EPA, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-60819-914-3


[1] GM MAIZE IS NOT SAFE TO EAT - October 2012


[3] WAR OVER UNSAFE GM MAIZE - December 2012


Ulrich E. Leoning, 2015, A challenge to scientific integrity: a critique of the critics of the GMO rat study conducted by Gilles-Eric Séralini et al. (2012)

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