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Tech Tuesday

Science and Questions Cause Consternation

GMO research in France repudiated, peer review process in jeopardy?

Reporting scientific information isn't easy, and it gets harder when the researchers themselves are taken to task by other scientists. That's the case of that French study - released just in time for California to vote on biotech labeling - showing that biotech corn caused a host of issues in rats. No need to detail them here, but the study came under fire moments after it was published, and not just by GMO advocates. Scientists around the world signed onto a petition questioning the research, and calling on the researchers themselves to release their data so others could look.

At the core, however, is a bigger question. The research was released in a peer-reviewed journal. In the old days, you know five years ago, "peer-reviewed" used to mean the study was put through its paces and there was relative confidence that there was valuable information available. The 700-plus scientists who have signed the petition against the rat study are wondering just who these "peers" were and whether they looked at the data at all or were looking more at the conclusion.

Look, the ag industry is the first to move if there's a problem with a product. We take it off the market. We run more tests. We determine what's right - we're talking food here. But for 15 years foods from ingredients that have biotech content have been sold in the United States - and Europe by the way - and there's no evidence of side effects.

Often the changes to a crop are a single gene to get a plant to express a protein. I'm not going to pass myself off as a scientific expert here - I'll let the World Health Organization, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and more tell you what they know - the stuff is safe.

There are efforts out there to tie GMOs to everything from obesity to a host of other human problems. Specious claims without true scientific review are a waste of time but today's Web-focused world allows anyone to pass off their information as gospel. Agriculture has become an easy target because to some food production is a religion - a religion of small is beautiful, organic is the only way. Well you can eat that way, I can't afford it.

Science is science. It should be rigorously tested and if a research result can't be reproduced, or a scientist won't share their data, be suspect. It's that simple. 

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