- A group of scientists warned of serious
health dangers from eating genetically modified (GM) food yesterday, citing
unpublished research allegedly showing that GM potatoes have damaged laboratory
- The independent scientists vigorously
defended the work of Arpad Pusztai, an expert on plant toxins, who was
forced to retire last year from his post at the Rowett Research Institute
in Aberdeen after prematurely releasing the results of his experiments
to the World in Action television programme .
- Twenty researchers from around the world
have signed a memorandum condemning the way Dr Pusztai was treated by the
Rowett Institute, which said the 68-year-old scientist had become "muddled"
over an experiment that did not in fact involve genetically modified potatoes.
- Dr Pusztai was suspended and his annual
contract not renewed. He has since been told not to talk publicly about
his work on GM potatoes by his former employer.
- But yesterday Vyvyan Howard, a toxicologist
from Liverpool University, released data from further experiments carried
out by Dr Pusztai which, said Dr Howard, supports the principal conclusion
that genetically modified food can be harmful to health.
- Dr Howard said that "transgenic"
potatoes, which had an added gene responsible for a plant toxin called
a lectin, produced damaging effects on the immune systems and internal
organs of the laboratory animals. "There is obviously something going
on with this transgenic potato which is not just due to the lectins. We
don't have an answer to that. It needs further research," he said.
- Stanley Ewen, of the department of pathology
at Aberdeen University, released preliminary results of his own experiments,
which showed that animals fed on GM potatoes experienced the take-up of
lectin proteins into the cells of their intestines. "It may be that
in GM food a drug-delivery system has been created, delivering something
you didn't want to," Dr Ewen said.
- Another supporter of Dr Pusztai, Professor
Brian Goodwin, of Schumacher College in Dartington, Devon, said the latest
results will strengthen support for an immediate moratorium on the growth
of GM crops, a ban on patenting genes and an independent inquiry into the
use of genetic engineering by the food and agricultural industries.
- Ronald Finn, past president of the British
Society of Allergy and Environmental Medicine, said Dr Pusztai's research
raised serious concerns. "Dr Pusztai's results to date at the very
least raise the suspicion that genetically modified potatoes may damage
the immune system." If that happened, he said, the consequences of
something like a flu epidemiccould be extremely serious. "You can
imagine a doomsday scenario. If the immune system of the population was
weakened, then the mortality would be increased many, many times."
- Other scientists criticised Dr Pusztai's
supporters for taking his research out of context. Professor Ray Baker,
chief executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Research Council, said
the potato experiments did not cast doubt on the safety of all GM food.
"These potatoes were part of an experiment and were never intended
for commercial production, nor are they available on the market,"
- As the row over Dr Pusztai erupted, Tony
Blair yesterday rejected calls for a moratorium on GM food and played down
mounting concern. "There is no GM food that can be sold in this country
without going through a very long regulatory process," he said on
BBC radio. "Let's proceed on the basis of genuine scientific analysis
and inquiry, proceed with very great care and caution and not get the facts
- Philip James, director of the Rowett
Institute, vigorously defended his decision to suspend Dr Pusztai on the
grounds that the lectin expert had become confused over key experiments
on GM potatoes.
- Dr James said that Dr Pusztai had claimed
in media interviews to have found ill-effects on rats fed with GM potatoes
with a lectin called GNA - a protein derived from the snowdrop plant -
but in fact he had mistaken these results for those on ordinary potatoes
that had been deliberately laced with high concentrations of another, highly
toxic lectin called Con A, which would never be used in human food.
- Dr James strongly denied that he had
come under any political pressure to dismiss Dr Pusztai.
- The environmental pressure group Friends
of the Earth called on the Prime Minister yesterday to hold an inquiry
into the affair.