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3-Food: Dr. Pusztai vindicated (1)

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GUARDIAN 12/02/1999 P1


By Michael Sean Gillard, Laurie Flynn and Andy Rowell.

TWENTY international scientists have signed an unprecedented memorandum 
supporting the controversial findings of suppressed research which found 
that rats fed on genetically modified pototoes suffered a weakened immune 
system and damage to vital organs. In a report published for the first 
time today, the scientists from 13 countries also demand the immediate 
professional rehabilitation of the British scientist, Dr Arpad Pusztai, 
who discovered these preliminary findings last year and was forced to 
retire after speaking out about his concerns. Dr Pusztai's pioneering 
research into the effects of GM crops on animal nutrition and the 
environment included feeding genetically modified (GM) potatoes to rats 
to determine for the first time whether they had any harmful effects on 
their guts, bodies, metabolism and immune system.

The unexpected results of the #1.6m Scottish Office-funded research 
project showed that after 10 days of feeding trials the development of 
the kidney, thymus, spleen and gut were adversely affected. The research 
also showed the rats' immune systems were weakened. The Guardian can also 
reveal that the rats' brain size decreased. Dr Pusztai did not publish 
this at the time because he judged the political repercussions would be 
too severe. A more recent piece of research on the same rats by senior 
pathologist, Dr Stanley Ewen, of Aberdeen University Medical School, is 
understood to validate Dr Pusztai's preliminary findings and points 
towards new potential health risks. Dr Ewen found that rats fed the GM 
potatoes used in Dr Pusztai's experiments suffered from an enlarged 
stomach wall after 10 days of feeding trials. The implications for the 
biotech industry, already suffering from a public backlash against GM 
foods, could be severe, says Dr Vyvyan Howard, a foetal and infant 
toxico-pathologist at Liverpool University, who also signed the 
memorandum. "What this means for the industry is that they will have to 
do rigorous hazard assessment and do it repeatedly and monitor it."

Jonathan Rhodes, Professor of Medicine at Liverpool University, said: 
"One key problem that keeps coming back time and again is that regulation 
of food is nothing like as strict as the regulation for drugs. And when 
you start tinkering around with the genetic structure of food you have to 
move towards thinking of food products as pharmaceuticals." The 
memorandum demands an immediate funding programme to research the effects 
further and determine the causes. If it can be shown that the lectin, a 
naturally occuring insect resistant protein inserted into the potato, was 
responsible, this could implicate GM crops containing other lectins, 
namely Bt toxin.

Last year there were approximately 7.7m hectares of these crops, such as 
maize, planted worldwide. The maize is found in various forms, such as 
corn flour and tortilla chips, in British supermarkets. However, some 
scientists believe that the problem may lie with one of the key genes 
that forms part of the genetic engineering process itself. The so-called 
cauliflower mosiac promoter is used in most GM foods available in the UK, 
such as soya, present in an estimated 60% of processed foodstuffs.

It was these far reaching implications for one of the world's most 
aggressively expanding industries, that put Dr Pusztai in the eye of the 
storm since last August when he spoke out on ITV's World In Action. He 
said he would not eat GM potatoes and found it "very unfair to use our 
fellow citizens as guinea pigs." Some of the scientists who have viewed 
the evidence believe that the circumstances surrounding Dr Pusztai's 
removal and the closing down of his research team cannot be understood 
outside of political and commericial parameters. The Aberdeen-based 
Rowett Institute, where the research was done, said at the time of his 
removal that they were unhappy with his having made public the results of 
preliminary research which had not been subject to peer review. He was 
subsequently exonerated by an internal inquiry.

-| Hartmut Meyer
-| Co-ordinator
-| The European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
-| Reinhaeuser Landstr. 51
-| D - 37083 Goettingen
-| Germany
-| phone: #49-551-7700027
-| fax  : #49-551-7701672
-| email:

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