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Nutrition and GM Corn: One of These Tables is Not Like the Other

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By Gary Hartnell
Monsanto Science Fellow

A number of online reports are claiming that a “leaked study” from Canada demonstrates that GM corn has no nutritional value. The only part of the “study” that has been made public is a table that supposedly shows a comparison of the nutritional value of GM corn and non-GM corn.

The table, cited by bloggers and various anti-GM publications, has a number of problems.  Without seeing the full report, neither we nor anyone can make claims about what it says or doesn’t say. But the table by itself suggests that – at a minimum – this is not the kind of study nutritionists and other scientists are familiar with, or the way they would report such a study themselves.  Here are a few of the things that just don’t make sense:

  • The table shows no starch, protein, amino acid, oil or fiber analyses – and they are the main nutritional components of corn.
  • The values reported for GM corn are not even close to what is in the literature or in laboratory databases for last year’s corn crop.
  • The percent organic matter listed is an error. There is simply no way corn could have 1.2% or 2% organic matter as reported in the table. The number should be closer to 95%.
  • The table lists measurements for “Brix,” which is a measurement of sugar content and is used for products like molasses where one expects high amounts of sugar. Corn (GM and non-GM) typically has low amounts of sugar because most of the sugar has been converted to starch.
  • Nowhere in the world are energy requirements for animals measured in “ergs,” as the table says.
  • In most standard nutrition analyses, major minerals (like calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus) are reported in units of percentages rather than parts per million, while minor minerals are reported in ppm. It’s not standard to see both reported in ppm.

The table being published by itself raises several questions, which – as a scientist looking at a study – I automatically ask. How many samples were taken? How were the samples collected? What are the genetic backgrounds of the corn samples used? Were the fields from which they were taken the same, adjacent, or different? Were they fertilized the same? The table also doesn’t indicate what the samples actually were – corn grain, the whole plant, corn silage, and so on.

The kind of table one would typically expect to see in a nutrition comparison is this one, published as supplementary information for a paper published by Nature. (In the supplementary information, scroll down to chart 20, page 50, of the pdf document.) Yes, the study was done by Monsanto, but it met the standard requirements for nutritional analyses and the results are reported in units that all nutritionists would recognize.

Another example is this publication from Bunge, which includes a table showing what corn should comprise (and reported in percentages).

As a researcher who has spent over 30 years studying agriculture and the safety or nutritional composition of numerous products, I understand that – while obvious to me – the many glaring errors in this table might be readily accepted as science by others.  For example, we all know that a corn kernel is not 98% minerals, yet that is what the data in the table implies by showing 1.2 to 2% organic matter for both GM and Non-GMO corn.  I can’t emphasize enough the importance of scientific rigor and review, as well as choosing your sources of information wisely.

Related:

Experts Review the Safety of GM Corn

7 Responses to "Nutrition and GM Corn: One of These Tables is Not Like the Other"

  1. Thank you for this article. A friend of mine sent me a link to the same blog posts you referred. Even prior to reading this I had the exact same comments as you. The table doesn’t make any sense, nor has any published report been released other than this document.

    Don’t you just love the public jumping on new “research” without spending the five minutes to read the damn thing. Literally every blog post is an identical regurgitation of the original post.

    Reply
  2. My favorite comparison was Anaerobic biology ppm. As a Ph.D. Microbiologist, I don’t even know what that means. Maybe that is something the new kids are learning!

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    • Oh, thank goodness. I only have a B.S in molecular and I was going nuts trying to figure out what that meant. At first I thought it might be a hamfisted way of describing photosynthesis to respiration, but those are both good!

      Reply
  3. Yes that chart has been all over face book, posted by people who want to believe in Bad Big Companies rather than stopping just for a moment and thinking about what they are looking at. So glad to see this blog. There are thinkers in the world.

    Reply
  4. I thought that table looked odd. The organic material and carbon content threw me off as well as the generic GMO/non-GMO labels. Is there a published paper? I didn’t think sharing scientific work was called “leaking”.

    Reply

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