The research first hit the headlines last year when Gilles Seralini his colleagues published their findings in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology. The study, along with graphic images of tumour ridden rats released by the authors, attainted global media coverage with suggestions that long term exposure to even relatively low levels of Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup and the genetically modified NK603 resistant maize crop could result in a ‘greatly increased risk of tumours’ and premature death.
Now, however, A. Wallace Hayes the editor of Food and Chemical Toxicology has sent Seralini a letter saying that the paper will be retracted if he does not agree to withdraw it.
In a letter to Dr Seralini dated the 19th November, Hayes asserts that the journal board had completed a 'thorough examination' of the data provided to them by the researcher and had expressed many concerns about the quality of the data, and ultimately recommended that the article should be withdrawn.
"I have been trying to get in touch with you to discuss the specific reasons behind this recommendation," wrote Hayes. "If you do not agree to withdraw the article, it will be retracted."
The letter also notes that very shortly after the publication of the study, the journal received many letters to the editor expressing concerns about the validity of the findings it described, the proper use of animals, "and even allegations of fraud."
"Unequivocally, the Editor-in-Chief found no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data. However, there is legitimate cause for concern regarding both the number of animals in each study group and the particular strain selected," the letter continues.
The right thing to do ... but too late?
Within weeks of its appearance in the peer-reviewed journal, more than 700 scientists had signed an online petition calling on Seralini to release all the data from his research, while the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued a statement concuding the research was of ‘insufficient scientific quality to be considered valid.' EFSA added that the research had serious defects in design and methodology and did not meet acceptable scientific standards.
Commenting on the decision to withdraw the study, Professor Cathie Martin, group leader at the John Innes Centre, UK said that the major flaws in the paper make its retraction the right thing to do. While David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, said: "It was clear from even a superficial reading that this paper was not fit for publication, and in this instance the peer review process did not work properly."
"At least this has now been remedied and the journal has recognised that no conclusions can be drawn from this study, so I suppose it is better late than never," he added. "Sadly the withdrawal of this paper will not generate the publicity garnered by its initial publication."