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3-Food: Pusztai's rat feeding experiments criticized by Royal Society (UK)

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TITLE:  Scientists doubt GM food research
SOURCE: Guardian, by Tim Radford
DATE:   May 19, 1999

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for Royal Society press release see:

Scientists doubt GM food research

The row over genetically modified crops took a twist last night
as Britain's leading scientists dismissed the findings which
sparked the latest furore. A specially convened Royal Society
group maintained that the experiments of Arpad Pusztai who said
last August that genetically-modified potatoes stunted the growth
of his laboratory rats were 'flawed in many aspects of design,
execution and analysis.' But, they said, that did not prove that
GM foods were safe. And as a Commons select committee called for
a code of practice to ensure that scientific news reporting
should be 'factually accurate', environmental campaigners accused
them of making recommendations 'brewed up in the basement of a
corporate lobbying firm.' Meanwhile, the Scottish National Party
called for an end to testing of GM crops north of the border.

Dr Pusztai, the Hungarian-born expert on plant toxins called
lectins, said last night he had been treated unfairly. Its six
anonymous investigators had given him too little time to consider
their findings, and had not taken up his offer to discuss
results, which were still confidential. 'Obviously I don't agree
with them. Why should we trust these six unnamed referees?' he
asked. 'Who the hell are they? As far as I am concerned they
could be anything.' Dr Pusztai, at the age of 68, was bundled out
of the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen last year, a few
days after he had described in a World In Action TV programme his
attempts to devise new ways of testing the safety of GM foods and
the disturbing turn of his research. He said rats fed potatoes
modified with a insecticide gene from snowdrops suffered damage
to their organs and their immune systems.

An internal audit at the Rowett found his conclusions
unjustified. But in February an international group of scientists
rallied to his support, and reopened the row, to even wider
public alarm. The Royal Society, founded in 1660 as an
independent scientific academy, began its own investigation, and
its conclusions had to be faxed to Dr Pusztai late last week in
Norway 'which is where I have to go now if I want to do
experimental work,' he said. He added: 'The affair cost me my
health. I thought it had gone away and was quietly doing some
work in some other part of the European continent.' The Royal
Society is a science elite: some of its members helped to found
the new world of genetic research. It has already declared GM
research as important for farming, health and nutrition. But its
latest report called for more safety research. 'Each GM food must
be assessed individually,' it declared.

Environmentalists were not impressed. Doug Parr, of Greenpeace,
said: 'People should still be worried. This changes nothing and
the questions that Dr Pusztai's research raised, remain
unanswered.' Save British Science, a lobby of professional
scientists, welcomed yesterday's Commons select committee report
on the scientific advisory system, and the problems of GM food.
The report suggested that scientists should respond competently
to media pressure, that the media should be obliged to report
scientific matters accurately, that the benefits of GM technology
would be lost to Britain unless there was rational debate, and
that scientists serving the biotechnology industry should not be
barred from the government's scientific advisory system. The
committee also heard evidence from Dr Pusztai, and said
yesterday: 'The press continues to give credibility to Dr
Pusztai's claim despite it being contradicted by his own
evidence.' Adrian Bebb, of Friends of the Earth, said: 'The
report smells as if it was brewed up in the basement of some
corporate lobbying firm. It has no credibility whatever.'


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