Anti-GM advertisement misleading
NOTE: The pro-GM researcher, Professor Michael Jones' claim that Irina Ermakova study had been debunked by experts in the scientific journal Nature Biotechnology, is completely misleading as Judy Carman points out.
What actually happened was that Nature Biotechnology's editor, Andrew Marshall, solicited from Dr. Ermakova a partial account of her research which he then opened up to public comment by a group of hostile reviewers. Unsurprisingly, they found considerable fault with Ermakova's study of rats fed diets containing GM soy and her finding that the GM feed compromised their fertility and the survival of their offspring.
While Nature Biotechnology's editor and his reviewers have protested that it's inherently unscientific to focus on whether or not they are GM supporters, what are we to make of the point that Dr. Carman alludes to - that not one of the reviewers has published a single paper on animal physiology, toxicology or laboratory-based animal nutrition studies?
On the other hand, one of them heads a pro-GM lobby group funded by the biotech industry; another is a former Vice President of the Biotechnology Industry Organisation, which proclaims itself "the champion of biotechnology"; and the other two are not just GM scientists but well known champions of the technology and its alleged safety.
While it may seem surprising that the editor should select four reviewers who to a man are both inexpert and anything but impartial for the job at hand, the correspondence that subsequently emerged suggested something far worse - that the reviewers were not selected at all, but were entirely self-selecting. It appears that they approached the editor, and not the other way around, and with the clear intent of providing a critique of the study, even though the published article stated unambiguously that their comments were "solicited".
After the attack on Ermakova was published, Prof. Carlo Leifert of the University of Newcastle wrote to the journal to say he now had the strong impression Nature Biotechnology was "politically motivated to... defend the dogma that there are no potential health risks associated with GM crops, [and...] destroy the reputation of scientists that dare to challenge that dogma".
Anti-GM advertisement misleading: academic
The West Australian, 5 September 2008
An anti-GM advertisement urging West Australians to vote against the pro-GM Liberal party in this weekend’s state election was misleading and based on a scientific study which had been disproven, a leading WA academic said yesterday.
Professor Michael Jones, director of the State Agriculture Biotechnology Centre at Murdoch University, claimed the study by Russian Scientist Irina Ermakova cited in the advertisement had been debunked by experts in UK based scientific journal, Nature Biotechnology, in 2007.
He said Dr Ermakova’s findings, that 55 per cent of rats fed GM soy died within three weeks, were unproven.
Prof Jones said West Australians had been eating imported GM soy for ten years with no affect.
“The study has been completely debunked, the whole report was false. There was an article in Nature biotechnology where a series of experts explained why those finding were untrue. There are real questions about the work, the number of rats used and the whether the rats used were of the same developmental age.” he said.
“More than 65 per cent of the world’s production of soy bean is GM. All the imported soy in Western Australian is GM.
People in WA have been eating GM produce, whether they know it or not, for going on 10 years.”
The advertisement, which recommends West Australians concerned for their health and safety vote for parties which are committed to upholding the current moratorium on GM crops, Labour and the Greens, was commissioned by Scott Kinnear, Director of the Biological Farmers of Australia organisation.
He said he had paid for the advertisement out of his own funds, and that it was in no way connected with any group or organisation.
“I spent a lot of money on that add because I believe the West Australian Government’s stance to protect public health and safety in relation to GM foods is a courageous one that must be supported,” he said.
Mr Kinnear rejected the claim his advertisement was misleading. He said because Dr Ermakova’s findings were preliminary, the criticism had been unfair.
At the same time, he claimed the preliminary findings were “genuine,” and reliable enough to base his advertisement on.
He claimed he had advised a Labour staffer the advertisement would run, and sent them a draft to look at.
“No one made any objection to it,” he said.
He claimed the Labour staffer had made a suggestion on how the add might be improved. “I sent them a draft with a photo of (Federal Greens senator for WA) Rachel Siewert on it, and they said I should use a photo of (Greens MLC) Giz Watson.”
Labour Media Director, David Britton, said the claims made in the advertising were not authorised or endorsed by the ALP.
“A copy was forwarded to the ALP yesterday or the day before as third party advertisements sometimes are during the course of a campaign. Rachael Siewert is not a Greens MLC but rather a Federal Senator. This was pointed out,” he said.
Premier Alan Carpenter said he had seen the advertisement, but he was not aware of its origins and had not heard of the group behind the campaign.
“There has been no reference to me from anybody related to that (advertisement),” Mr Carpenter said.
“But this is the situation, we have outlined our policies on uranium mining and on GM foods. Everybody knows the difference between our position and the Liberal Party’s position.”
Dr Judy Carman, Director of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research in SA, whose organisation has received funding from the WA Government to conduct the world’s first long term independent GM feeding studies, also defended Dr Ermakova’s findings.
“Some pro-GM people and the editor of a journal worked together to try and discredit this study and bury the results. As none of them seems to have any training or experience in doing animal feeding studies, their efforts were frankly absurd.” she said.
“None of them called for more studies to investigate further. This isn’t good enough. Everyone is eating this GM soy.”
Dr Carman said when the health and wellbeing of the public were potentially at risk, scientists like Dr Ermakova had a moral obligation to make their findings public as soon as possible, even if it meant releasing the information before it had gone through the standard process.
The controversy over the advertisement came as WA environment groups yesterday handed Opposition Leader Colin Barnett a petition signed by some 25,000 people opposed to having the state GM moratorium lifted.
Mr Barnett was also presented with letters from 46 Japanese consumer organisations representing 4.5million consumers. The letter called for WA to maintain its status as a GM-free producer.