Caen, France—A 2012 research paper linking genetically modified (GM) corn with tumor growth in rats has been retracted by the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology. The study has frequently been cited by those who question the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the food supply.

The journal claims it pulled support for the study after editors decided its findings are insignificant. But there is considerable debate about the science, and the circumstances surrounding the retraction have people on both sides of the issue buzzing.

The study was conducted by a research group at the University of Caen, led by Gilles-Eric Séralini. Rats were fed either GM maize made by the biotech company Monsanto that had been sprayed with the pesticide Roundup, GM maize that wasn’t sprayed with Roundup, water laced with small amounts of Roundup, or a diet with non-GM maize and water without Roundup. Large tumors grew in many of the rats, and the researchers determined that in the Roundup and GM maize groups, tumors grew faster and were more common, and the rats died earlier.

Upon its release, the study met with widespread criticism from scientific organizations, supporters of GMO crops and from Monsanto itself. The journal recently announced it was retracting the paper, but did not cite scientific fraud, plagiarism or unethical methods, which are the typical reasons for a journal to retract a study. Instead, it reasoned that because of the small number of animals used and other issues, “no definitive conclusions can be reached” from the findings and the study should not have been published. Séralini has publically threatened to sue the journal for the retraction.

Another reason cited for the retraction is the fact that the “Sprague–Dawley” rats used in the study are known to be susceptible to tumors, and so the differences in tumor growth found in each group of rats may have been due only to natural variation. But, a Monsanto-funded study appeared in the same journal back in 2004 using the same type of rats, and was not met with the same criticism. That study, which concluded that the GM corn was safe, also took place over only 13 weeks, compared with two years for the retracted study.

Some have pointed out that six months after the study was published, the journal hired Richard Goodman, a former Monsanto employee with ties to a pro-GMO lobbying group, to a new editorial position called Associate Editor for Biotechnology.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, January 2014