A new study that links genetically modified (GM) foods to stomach inflammation in pigs, is misleading and flawed, according to multiple scientists who weren’t involved in it.
The study was conducted by researchers who have close ties to anti-GMO groups, who also provided funding for it to be done.
The paper in question was published in the Journal Of Organic Systems. This is a small journal that does not appear to have an “impact factor,” a way that scientists analyse the importance of journals. Additionally, the journal is funded by a pro-organic farming federation, the journal doesn’t specialize in genetically modified organisms but in organic farming, and doesn’t appear in an important repository for peer-reviewed research — sure signs that something’s up.
According to the paper [PDF], 168 pigs were fed either normal soy and corn feed or genetically modified soy and corn feed for five months, the average time a pig will spend on a farm before it is slaughtered. They studied the pigs over this time and autopsied them at the end when they were killed.
The study authors concluded that the pigs who ate GM feed were more likely to have severely inflamed stomachs and the female pigs fed GM feed had bigger uteri, and called for more long-term studies on GM foods.
Critics of the paper say that the study is flawed because the statistics used were abnormal. When Andrew Kniss, of the Control Freak blog performed more appropriate statistical tests, his results didn’t support the researchers’ conclusions in the paper.
In reality, study suggests that the GM pigs were no less healthy than those fed non-GM food when they were killed, though both groups had a high rate of illness, and about almost 15% of them died before the end of the trial, possibly from bad practices.
Because the team measured so many variables, random chance meant the non-GM feed group showed abnormalities too — 15% of non-GM feed pigs had heart abnormalities, while only 6 % of GM feed pigs did. Similar data was presented in the liver problems category.
If these differences are actually caused by the pig’s diet, and not random chance, what would you would rater? An irritated stomach or heart and liver problems?
Mark Lynas suggested the Daily Mail would title their coverage: “Pigs fed non-GMO feed 100% more likely to develop heart and liver problems, study finds.”
If the GMO feed really did cause stomach inflammation, there should have also been more cases of “moderate” inflammation and fewer cases of “nil inflammation,” but in reality, the GMO fed group actually had twice as many pigs without stomach inflammation, says Mark Hoofnagle, of Denialism Blog.
Even the interpretation of what “inflammation” of the stomach looks like is subjective — the vet performing the autopsy has to decide which group to put a given stomach in by how it looks. If two vets did the autopsies on the two groups, they could have made different judgement calls on the severity of the inflammation.
The “enlarged uterus” finding, while statistically significant, is not likely to be clinically relevant.
It’s possible it could be related to the feed’s soybean content, because they are known to impact hormone activity in animals. The difference in uterine weight could come if on feed contained more soybeans than the other. There’s also a link between swollen uteri and a chemical called Zearalenone, which the researchers didn’t test the feed for.
Analysis of the animals’s feed also flagged warnings for some. David Tribe, of GMO Pundit noted that the feed was moldy. While technically within allowed limits, levels of the fungal toxin fumonisin were at levels in the GM feed that when chronically fed to pigs could be toxic, and were more than double the levels in the non-GM feed.
These conclusions were likely formed before the study was even conducted, if the researchers’ associations with anti-GMO groups is any indication.
Though the authors claim no conflicts of interest, the funding for the study itself was provided by Verity Farms, owned by one of the study’s authors, which sells non-GMO grains. They also got funding from the Australian non-profit, Institute of Health and Environmental Research, which seems dedicated to anti-GMO activism.
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