December 17, 2016
NEW DELHI: Researchers have found that a large share of scientific studies on genetically modified (GM) crops were tainted by conflicts of interest, mostly because of having an employee of a GM producing company as one of the authors or having received funding from the company.
Out of the 579 published studies on GM crops that were analysed, about 40 per cent showed such conflict of interest, the researchers affiliated to France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) found. Their study is published in the journal PLOS ONE this week.
“We found that ties between researchers and the GM crop industry were common, with 40 per cent of the articles considered displaying conflicts of interest,” said the study.
They also discovered that studies with conflict of interest had much more likelihood of presenting a favourable outcome for GM crops compared to those with no conflict of interest.
“In particular, we found that, compared to the absence of COI (conflict of interest), the presence of a COI was associated with a 50 per cent higher frequency of outcomes favorable to the interests of the GM crop company,” the study said.
Common crops like corn, soybean etc. can be made resistant to certain pests by introducing genes from a bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis, hence the name ‘Bt’. Considerable research has been devoted to charting efficacy and durability of Bt crops.
Thomas Guillemaud, director of research at France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), told AFP that the team originally looked at 672 studies before narrowing down to the pool to 579 that showed clearly whether there was or was not a financial conflict of interest.
“Of this total, 404 were American studies and 83 were Chinese,” he said.
“The most important point was how we also showed there is a statistical link between the presence of conflicts of interest and a study that comes to a favorable conclusion for GMO crops,” Guillemaud said.
“When studies had a conflict of interest, this raised the likelihood 49 per cent that their conclusions would be favorable to GMO crops.”
“We thought we would find conflicts of interest, but we did not think we would find so many,” Guillemaud told AFP.
One limitation of the study was that it investigated only direct financial conflict of interest. As the authors point out in the study paper itself, “authors may have affiliations to GM crop companies of other types, such as being members of advisory boards, consultants, or co-holders of patents, and this could also have a significant impact on the outcomes of studies on GM crops.”