Heavily politically-orientated food

May 2019

Earlier this year, a story appeared in Le Monde newspaper entitled "GMO poisons? The real end of the Séralini affair". Le Monde implied that a newly published study, pithily named 'GMO90+', disproved Séralini's controversial experimental results, and showed that the alarm generated by media reports on Séralini's work was fake news.

The Séralini affair referred to a long-term rat feeding study first published in 2012 investigating the toxicity of Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant GM maize, 'NK603' . Its results indicated adverse effects on the kidney and liver (the organs of detoxification), and early death. Routine examination of the condition of the animals during the course of the experiment unexpectedly revealed an excess of palpable tumours. [1]

The title of this new study was "The GMO90+ Project: Absence of Evidence for Biologically Meaningful Effects of Genetically Modified Maize-based Diets on Wistar Rats After 6-Months Feed Comparative Trial".

This overly-detailed heading informs the reader that the project produced an absence of evidence, before the paper, or even the Abstract, has been read. The title format echoes that of the associated, also pithily named, 'G-TwYST' feeding study which managed not to notice the adverse effects it found [2].

"Biologically meaningful" doesn't have a definition: it seems to be used when significant differences have been found, but no one's yet worked out what health implications they might have.

"Genetically modified maize-base diets" sounds like an attempt to generalise from whichever GM maize was studied to all GM maize. Actually, only two variants were tested, which could easily have been incorporated into the unnecessarily long title.

As GM Watch pointed out, there are all the hallmarks of a "heavily politically oriented" piece of reporting.

GMO90+ studied GM-fed rats at two time-points: after 90 days as in standard feeding trials and (+) after 180 days. The project was an attempt to identify biomarkers for health effects in rats consuming GM maize. It included additional information gleaned from newer screening techniques: metabolic products (the 'metabolome') in blood and urine, and gene activity (the 'transcriptome') in the organs of detoxification, the liver and kidneys. The GMOs tested were NK603 (tolerant to glyphosate-based herbicides, as used in Séralini's experiment) and a Bt insecticidal maize, MON810.

Were significant changes found in the GM-fed animals? Yes, significant changes were found, for example, in relation to the liver and the kidneys, and sometimes in a sex-specific way.

Did the researchers identify the required biomarkers for disease? No, the results didn't conform to any previously identified clinical presentation, so they didn't know how to interpret them.

Even extending the experiment from 3 months (one eighth of a rat life-span) to 6 months (one quarter of the rat life-span), the test population is still young: the small, uninterpretable changes measured in physiology might signal chronic disease in old age.

The integrity of the GMO90+ project was severely limited by the amount of 'noise' generated by the materials used. For example, the GM test, the non-GM control, and the pre-trial acclimation feeds weren't grown in the same place at the same time (or even on the same continent); this is known to introduce significant differences in nutritional effects. All the feeds used were contaminated with glyphosate residues and other GMOs. One member of Séralini's team has commented that glyphosate could well be the biggest risk factor in currently commercialised GM crops. Unlike the Séralini study, the rat strain used was a different one from that used in industry and regulatory testing, which restricts any direct comparisons with previous results.

As GM Watch points out, Séralini's team took their results seriously and followed them up with further, more detailed analyses, many of which backed up the health effects indicated. GMO90+ dismissed the significant differences as "few", "minor", "limited", "very low", and "not biologically significant".


All this might be leaving you with the sense that the GMO90+ results were simply inconclusive. However, other terms (such as not biologically meaningful) had to be invented because Séralini's paper was retracted by its original publisher on the invented grounds of inconclusiveness*. Now no one dares admit to having 'inconclusive' results, and if you can't tell the truth, best to pretend they don't matter.

Did GMO90+ end the Séralini affair, disprove Séralini's results, or prove the alarm generated by the Séralini study was fake news? No, the 32+ researchers in the GMO90+ project were happy to use different materials, poorly controlled test feeds, and an inadequate experimental feeding period. They also failed to accept their results, or to follow up questions raised, both essential features of good science.

So, where did Le Monde get the idea that GMO90+ was "the real end" of anything, especially the "Séralini affair"? Could it have been something to do with a well-placed press release linked to a heavily politically motivated write up of a heavily politically oriented piece of 'science'? Who knows.

Ask yourself, do you want to eat heavily politically motivated food with unpredicted biologically meaningful effects which might be nasty? 

* Séralini's article was republished with some minor clarifications in another scientific journal a few months after the retraction. 


[1] GM MAIZE IS NOT SAFE TO EAT - October 2012
[2] GM WITH A TwYST - April 2019

  • Xavier Coumoul, et al., 2018, The GMO90+ Project: Absence of Evidence for biologically Meaningful Effects of Genetically Modified Maize-based Diets on Wistar Rats After 6-Months Feed Comparative Trial, Toxicological Sciences
  • Deceptive reporting of GMO90+ EU-funded feeding study on GM maize, GM Watch 24.01.19

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