viernes, noviembre 30, 2007

Rigged research

Company Research on Genetically Modified Foods is Rigged, Nov 21 2007

In 2004, four advocates of genetically modified (GM) foods published a study in the British Food Journal that was sure to boost their cause. [1] According to the peer-reviewed paper, when shoppers in a Canadian farm store were confronted with an informed and unbiased choice between GM corn and non-GM corn, most purchased the GM variety. This finding flew in the face of worldwide consumer resistance to GM foods, which had shut markets in Europe, Japan, and elsewhere. It also challenged studies that showed that the more information on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) consumers have, the less they trust them. [2]

The study, which was funded by the biotech-industry front group, Council for Biotechnology Information and the industry's trade association, the Crop Protection Institute of Canada (now Croplife Canada), was given the Journal's prestigious Award for Excellence for the Most Outstanding Paper of 2004 and has been cited often by biotech advocates.

Stuart Laidlaw, a reporter from Canada's Toronto Star, visited the farm store several times during the study and described the scenario in his book Secret Ingredients. Far from offering unbiased choices, key elements appeared rigged to favor GM corn purchases. The consumer education fact sheets were entirely pro-GMO, and Doug Powell, the lead researcher, enthusiastically demonstrated to Laidlaw how he could convince shoppers to buy the GM varieties. He confronted a farmer who had already purchased non-GM corn. After pitching his case for GMOs, Powell proudly had the farmer tell Laidlaw that he had changed his opinion and would buy GM corn in his next shopping trip.

Powell's interference with shoppers' 'unbiased' choices was nothing compared to the effect of the signs placed over the corn bins. The sign above the non-GM corn read, 'Would you eat wormy sweet corn?' It further listed the chemicals that were sprayed during the season. By contrast, the sign above the GM corn stated, 'Here's What Went into Producing Quality Sweet Corn.' It is no wonder that 60% of shoppers avoided the 'wormy corn.' In fact, it may b e a testament to people's distrust of GMOs that 40% still went for the 'wormy' option.

Powell and his colleagues did not mention the controversial signage in their study. They claimed that the corn bins in the farm store were 'fully labelled' - either 'genetically engineered Bt sweet corn' or 'Regular sweet-corn.'

When Laidlaw's book came out, however, Powell's 'wormy' sign was featured in a photograph, [3] exposing what was later described by Cambridge University's Dr. Richard Jennings as 'flagrant fraud.' Jennings, who is a leading researcher on scientific ethics, says, 'It was a sin of omission by failing to divulge information which quite clearly should have been disclosed.' [4]

Jennings is among several scientists and outraged citizens that say the paper should have been withdrawn, but the Journal refused. Instead, it published a criticism of the methods by Canadian geneticist Joe Cummins, and allowed Powell to respond with a lengthy reply. [5]

In his defence, Powell claimed that his signs merely used the language of consumers and was 'not intended to manipulate consumer purchasing patterns.' He also claimed that the 'wormy' corn sign was only there for the first week of the trial and was then replaced by other educational messages. But eye witnesses and photographs demonstrate the presence of the sign long after Powell's suggested date of replacement. [6]

This incident illustrates how so-called scientific papers can be manipulated to force conclusions favorable to authors or funders and how peer-reviewed journals may be complicit. While the subject of this particular study provided ammunition in the battle to deny choice to consumers in North America, there is similar 'cooked' research in the more critical area of GMO safety assessments.