GMO opponents have claimed for years that ubiquitous GMO produce such as corn and soy may have detrimental effects on our health. And in 2013, a group of researchers set out to prove it.
The peer-reviewed study, which was published in the Journal of Organic Systems, Volume 8, No. 1, showed remarkable and statistically significant results.
According to the briefing by Dr. Judy Carman, the researchers "took 168 just-weaned pigs and fed them a typical diet for the piggery, containing soy and corn, for 22.7 weeks (over five months) until the pigs were slaughtered at their usual slaughter age."
Half the pigs were fed GM soy and corn; the other half were fed non-GM soy and corn.
"We chose pigs because they have a similar digestive system to humans," wrote Carman, "and because some of the investigators had been observing reproductive and digestive problems in pigs fed GM crops."
A few days before the pigs were slaughtered, the scientists performed blood tests, and after slaughter had qualified vets do autopsies on the carcasses.
They found severe stomach inflammation in 22.2% of male pigs and 41.7% of female pigs fed the GM diet – compared to 5.6% and 18.9%, respectively, in pigs fed the non-GM diet.
Image source: gmojudycarman.org/
"Pigs on the GM diet," writes Carman, "were 2.6 times more likely to suffer severe stomach inflammation than control pigs. … [Male] pigs were actually more strongly affected. While female pigs were 2.2 times more likely to have severe stomach inflammation when on the GM diet, males were 4 times more likely. These findings are both biologically significant and statistically significant."
On top of that, the average weight of the uterus of female pigs fed the GM diet was 25% higher than in the control pigs.
But how much merit does this research have?
Calling the GMO study "junk science," a 2013 BIOtechNOW article sneered,
This study was authored by two veteran anti-biotech campaigners, Judy Carman and Howard Vlieger, and was published in an obscure online journal financed by the organic industry. It reaches conclusions that are diametrically opposed to the great preponderance of the scientific evidence gathered from hundreds of independent food and feed safety studies that found no difference between animals fed GMO or non-GMO diets.
The article cites comments from several experts on the GMO study. One of them is agronomist Andrew Kniss, Ph.D., of the University of Wyoming, who summarized his analysis saying: "If I were to have analyzed these data, using the statistical techniques that I was taught were appropriate for the type of data, I would have concluded there was no statistical difference in stomach inflammation between the pigs fed the two different diets. To analyze these data the way the authors did makes it seem like they're trying to find a difference where none really exist."
To which Dr. Judy Carman replied in a debunking blog post, "Andrew, you just failed kindergarten-level statistics," chiding Kniss for getting the science all wrong.
Another of the cited experts is Dr. Mark Hoofnagle, M.D/Ph.D. who, according to his Wikipedia page, is "an American surgery resident and blogger" – which makes me wonder what exactly qualifies him to analyze the GMO pig study on his Denialism blog:
Looking at the data there were no differences in any of the major variables evaluated by the study, such as weights, veterinary costs, illnesses, or mortality. No significant differences in blood biochemistry were found. At autopsy most organ weights were similar between groups. There was a statistically significant (but likely clinically-meaningless) increase (0.1kg vs 0.12kg) in uterus weights in the GM group. At pathology there were nonsignificant decreases in cardiac and liver abnormalities in the GM group (half as many), in stomach pathology there was one significant finding of more "severe inflammation" (on a 4-point scale from no inflammation to severe) in the GM group. This is the finding that has been amplified as variably "damning or "concerning" depending on which source is reporting.
So what is the truth here?
Frankly, I don't know. It's a shouting match between two warring factions, each purportedly refuting the claims of the other, but not really. Never really.
I encourage you to form your own opinion – simply because it would be a full-time job to undo the Gordian knot that is the GMO debate. Who's in bed with whom? Who is a truly independent researcher, and who is getting paid off by Monsanto's lobbyists or follows a preconceived anti-GMO agenda? Who is using shoddy science to make his case? Who is willing to twist the truth just enough to score another point for the "cause"?
It's a mess, no doubt. One thing is clear, though: Unless you start making everything you eat from scratch, there really is no escape from GMO corn and soy.
According to the Center for Food Safety, up to 93% of US corn and 94% of US soybeans are genetically engineered at this point.
Buying organic produce is not enough. Derivatives of corn are everywhere: corn syrup, dextrin, dextrose, citric acid, starch, MSG, sorbitol, malt, caramel, cellulose, and many more. Even distilled white vinegar, pudding, French fries, hamburger patties, vanilla extract, soup, mayonnaise, milk and vitamins may be made with corn.
So I guess it's eat up and shut up… but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
Shannara Johnson is a freelance writer and copy editor working for several renowned investment research firms. On the side, she writes novels and short stories for children and young adults. Read more personal and often politically incorrect musings on her blog, Grumpy German Writer.