GMO paper retracted

An Italian research group run by Professor Federico Infascelli of the University Federico II of Naples was recently informed that their 2013 paper that purported to show that GMO feed can cause detection of GMO DNA in the baby goats was being retracted because of plagiarism. This is featured today in Retraction Watch. is a professor of Nutrition in the Department of Veterinary Medicine, and has published a string of papers in the past few years purporting to find GMO plant DNA in the blood and milk of goats fed Roundup Ready Soybean meal. This has never been considered credible by other workers because they couldn’t repeat it, and we know that plant DNA is digested regardless of its source.

This essentially begins the collapse of Infascelli’s entire edifice, since it has been shown that the data seems to be faked, or at least edited.

How did this happen? Well, as described in the Italian press (and translated here), Infascelli’s work contradicted all other work in the field and when he was asked to speak about his work to the Italian Senate, Senator Elena Cataneo, who is also an experienced researcher, was skeptical and asked for more information. She began studying papers from Infascelli’s group and also published an open letter (here translated) to Professor Infascelli about these problems, but received no reply.

She also found that work by Infascelli and his colleague Raffaela Tudisco was being criticized on an on-line journal discussion site PubPeer. Here, scientists pointed out that Figure 4 in the 2010 (Tudisco-2010) was duplicated as Figure 1 in the 2013 paper (Mastellone-2013). While both figures were photos of a gel electrophoresis experiment, in the 2010 paper, the samples were from a liver and in 2013 from milk. Not only are the photos the same, even the noise spots are in the same places as illustrated in PubPeer and perhaps more clearly in the article in Biofortified. And in fact, it appears that the data in the 2013 paper were digitally edited as well.

Thus after petitions to the journal from a number of scientists, the 2013 paper was retracted by the journal. Ironically, Food and Nutrition Sciences is a low level pay-to-play journal that is on Beall’s list of predatory journals. It is published by the Chinese publisher Scientific Research, along with a host of other noncredible journals. And Infascelli himself is on its editorial board.

To make matters worse, researchers have also found that Figure 1 of a paper published late last year (Tudisco 2015) is identical to Figure 1 in Tudisco-2010. While no further retraction actions have yet been taken, both the journals and the University of Naples have undertaken further investigations according to Biofortified, and more actions are expected.


Tudisco, R., Mastellone, V., Cutrignelli, M. I., Lombardi, P., Bovera, F., Mirabella, N., Piccolo, G., Calabro, S., Avallone, L., & Infascelli, F. (2010). Fate of transgenic DNA and evaluation of metabolic effects in goats fed genetically modified soybean and in their offsprings.Animal, 4(10), pp. 1662-1671 DOI: 10.1017/S1751731110000728

Mastellone, R. Tudisco, G. Monastra, M. E. Pero, S. Calabrò, P. Lombardi, M. Grossi, M. I. Cutrignelli, L. Avallone, F. Infascelli.  (2013). Gamma-Glutamyl Transferase Activity in Kids Born from Goats Fed Genetically Modified Soybean. Food and Nutrition Sciences, 4:50-54 – RETRACTED DOI: 10.4236/fns.2013.46A006

Tudisco, R., Calabrò, S., Cutrignelli, M. I., Moniello, G., Grossi, M., Mastellone, V., Lombardi, P., Pero, M. E., & Infascelli, F. (2015). Genetically modified soybean in a goat diet: Influence on kid performance. Small Ruminant Research(0), pp.

Doublespeak: It’s non-O157, but it’s still STEC, Schrader farms meat market recalls beef

Schrader Farms Meat Market, a Romulus, N.Y., establishment, is recalling approximately 20 pounds of ground beef product that may be contaminated with non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today.

big-brother-1984The ground beef item was produced on September 2, 2015. The following product is subject to recall:

1-lb. packages containing of “SCHRADER FARMS Meat Market Ground Beef” or “SCHRADER FARMS Meat Market GROUND BEEF, BULK” with a pack date of September 2, 2015. 

The products subject to recall bear the establishment number “Est. 44950” inside the USDA mark of inspection. These products were sold at the Schrader Farms retail store in Seneca County, New York.         

The problem was discovered during routine establishment testing, however this establishment failed to follow FSIS Notice 56-14 “Control of Agency Tested Products for Adulterants” and product was released in to commerce prematurely. FSIS and the company have received no reports of adverse reactions due to consumption of these products.

Many clinical laboratories do not test for non-O157 Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), such as STEC O26, O103, O45, O111, O121 or O145 because it is harder to identify than STEC O157.

‘Top Chef’ producer, others push for GE labeling; maybe push for safe food practices in kitchens instead of food porn?

Genetically engineered foods should be labeled – that’s been my  position for 20 years. But a whole range of other food production techniques, and especially microbial food safety (the stuff that make people sick) should also be on the label.

hucksterismSmart phone technology coupled with QR codes is making this realistic.

“Top Chef” producer and celebrity chef Tom Colicchio has been an outspoken proponent on the issue of labeling genetically engineered food and ingredients. He has urged chefs and consumers across the country to support labeling legislation.

Maybe he should urge the use of thermometers in his food porn kitchens.

Chef Colicchio may also want to ask why Cheerios and Grape-Nuts no longer contain four vitamins that previously had been added to Grape-Nuts — vitamins A, D, B-12 and B-2 (also known as riboflavin) — were gone – and riboflavin vanished from Cheerios.

Wayne Parrott, a professor of crop science at the University of Georgia criticized General Mills and Post Foods for marketing their non-GMO cereals as especially wholesome. “The new version [of Cheerios] is certainly less nutritious,” he told a reporter for, which covers the food industry.

This mini-controversy never got much attention. Recently, though, as we interviewed scientists who are using genetically altered yeast and bacteria to make nutrients and flavors, we recalled the strange case of the vanishing vitamins. We wondered: Do GMO microbes make vitamins, too? Is that why they can’t be used in non-GMO cereals?

monsanto.debatingThe companies directly involved weren’t terribly helpful. Post Foods, the maker of Grape-Nuts, informed us in a prepared statement that vitamins were removed because “they did not meet non-GMO standards,” but refused to explain why this was so.

Two of the world’s major vitamin makers, BASF and DSM, declined to provide details of their manufacturing. “There is very little non-proprietary information I could talk to you about,” a spokesman for DSM wrote in an email.

We dug further and discovered that vitamins may fail the non-GMO test for a variety of reasons.

Some companies are most likely making vitamin B-12 and riboflavin using genetically modified microbes; they have, at least, published scientific papers showing how this can be done.

I’ll stick to oats for breakfast and focusing on what actually makes people sick.

Interviewing people about genetic engineering: Kimmel has a better production team

This one time, in graduate school, I visited an anti-genetic engineering event in Toronto with a fellow student and whiz video editor Christian. And took a video camera.  The idea to was to interview folks about why they were there. Doug always stressed lessons from the risk communication literature: knowing the audience is important. To do that it’s necessary to get out and talk to people. I was thinner, had more hair and a somewhat youthful face.

The event, Biojustice picnic, (formally known as, The 6th International Grassroots Gathering on Genetic Engineering) was held at the same time as the annual meeting of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) annual meeting in Toronto, 2002.

Jimmy Kimmel repeated the activity last week with a different group of folks.

US food industry groups say they’ll label GMOs on their terms

I told food-industry types back in the mid-1990s to figure out a way to label – which is short-form for provide information at retail — genetically engineered foods, or others would do it for you (all food is genetically modified so all food would be labeled using GMO language).

ben-cornThey told me I was crazy.

We went ahead and did it at a retail market in 2000, and most shoppers didn’t care; but big retailers wouldn’t touch it.

Now, the U.S. Grocery Manufacturers Association and other food industry groups are, according to NPR, announced Thursday that it supports labeling — sort of.

It’s a mish-mash proposal of nonsense that I won’t go into because it has nothing to do with food safety and, as usual, when private outfits – the ones that profit – can’t figure things out and show leadership, they ask for government help.

The Pinto defense – we meet government standards.

Good title for journal paper: Surveys suck

I decided despite my undergraduate degree in molecular biology and genetics to stop writing about genetically engineered foods 12 years ago.

I still do now and then, but the public discussion doesn’t go anywhere; it’s not a food safety issue and I don’t have much to add.

So while N.Y. Times columnists and other foodies get all expansive about GE food, like the story about how Cheerios is going GE free (I’d prefer GE Cheerios for my kids, if that’s what they were going to eat while daddy was asleep) or how some lawmaker in Hawaii discovered there’s not much to this GE story, I focus on people who barf and sometimes die.

That’s microbial food safety.

But, just when I thought I was out, they suck me back in.

Powell, D.A. 2014. Surveys suck: Consumer preferences when purchasing genetically engineered foods. GM Crops and Food 4 (3): 195-201

Many studies have attempted to gauge consumers’ acceptance of genetically engineered or modified (GM) foods. Surveys, asking people about attitudes and intentions, are easy-to-collect proxies of consumer behavior. However, participants tend to respond as citizens of society, not discrete individuals, thereby inaccurately portraying their potential behavior. The Theory of Planned Behavior improved the accuracy of self-reported information, but its limited capacity to account for intention variance has been attributed to the hypothetical scenarios to which survey participants must respond. Valuation methods, asking how much consumers may be willing to pay or accept for GM foods, have revealed that consumers are usually willing to accept them at some price, or in some cases willing to pay a premium. Ultimately, it’s consumers’ actual—not intended—behavior that is of most interest to policy makers and business decision-makers. Real choice experiments offer the best avenue for revealing consumers’ food choices in normal life.

Syria approves law on GM food as deadly conflict rages

Another reason to ignore discussions of genetically-engineered food:

Bashar al-Assad of Syria, where more than 33,000 people have been killed in 19 months of conflict, issued a law on GM food Thursday to preserve human life, state-run SANA news agency reported.

Assad, whose forces are locked in a bloody confrontation with armed rebels opposed to his rule, “has approved a law on the health security of genetically modified organisms… to regulate their use and production,” SANA reported.

The law is meant “to preserve the health of human beings, animals, vegetables and the environment,” the agency added.

Genetically engineered foods and human health: I get bored easily

“I got tired of talking about hypothetical risks.”

That’s what I told Maclean’s and the Medical Post today in a brief story about genetically engineered foods.

And I agreed with a spokesthingy who said, “To date, Health Canada has not identified health risks associated with GM foods that have been approved for sale in Canada.”

As the journal Nature reported in 2009, “No one gets into research on genetically modified (GM) crops looking for a quiet life. Those who develop such crops face the wrath of anti-biotech activists who vandalize field trials and send hate mail… [Those] who suggest that biotech crops might have harmful environmental effects are learning to expect attacks of a different kind. These strikes are launched from within the scientific community and can sometimes be emotional and personal…”

Dr. Douglas Powell, a professor in food safety at Kansas State University who sat on the Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee (CBAC) in the early 2000s,, said, “(CBAC) reviewed everything that was out there and there was nothing to show GMOs present a risk to health. In fact, Dr. Powell has since moved away from researching the subject because, he says, “I got tired of talking about hypothetical risks.”

With at least 48 million suffering from foodborne illness each year in the U.S., I got plenty of work.

Ignoring the alarm

Matthew Wald writes in the NY Times this morning that “when an oil worker told investigators on July 23 that an alarm to warn of explosive gas on the Transocean rig in the Gulf of Mexico had been intentionally disabled months before, it struck many people as reckless.

“Reckless, maybe, but not unusual. On Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board said that a crash last year on the Washington subway system that killed nine people had happened partly because train dispatchers had been ignoring 9,000 alarms per week. Air traffic controllers, nuclear plant operators, nurses in intensive-care units and others do the same.”

These are problems of human behavior and design in complex systems — like in a meat processing plant that collects lots of listeria samples but doesn’t act when an increase seems apparent.

If consumers and retailers have food safety recall fatigue, do producers and processors have alarm fatigue – learning to ignore rather than investigate data that may highlight a problem?

In the Maple Leaf 2008 listeria outbreak that killed 22 Canadians, an investigative review found a number of environmental samples detected listeria in the culprit plant months before the public was alerted to possible contamination and that the company failed to recognize and identify the underlying cause of a sporadic yet persistent pattern of environmental test results that were positive for Listeria spp.

Alarms and monitoring systems are established to alert humans – with all their failings – that something requires attention.

Mark R. Rosekind, a psychologist who is a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, told the Times,

“The volume of alarms desensitizes people. They learn to ignore them.”

Wald further writes,

“On the oil rig and in the Guam control tower, the operators were annoyed by false alarms, which sometimes went off in the middle of the night. At the refinery and the reactor, the operators simply did not believe that the alarms would tell them anything very important.

Wald says, “… the alarms conveyed no more urgency to these operators than the drone of a nagging spouse — or maybe the shepherd boy in Aesop’s fable, who cried “Wolf!”

So what to do? The warning systems need to be better designed delivered and continually debated throughout any organization that values a safety culture. Engineers have known this for decades when designing fail-safe systems (sic). The food sector has a lot to learn.

Salmonella outbreak in New Jersey

MyFox is reporting that dozens of people got sick after a party at Iberia Peninsula in the Ironbound section of Newark Sunday night.

At least one person who was there has been hospitalized at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick. Angelo Afonso’s family says he is in the intensive care unit after suffering from severe gastrointestinal distress consistent with food poisoning.

Local health inspectors were expected to examine the restaurant and its employees on Wednesday.