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BBC    Friday, February 12, 1999 Published at 12:48 GMT

   Fears erupt over genetic food
   Dr Arpad Pusztai: Vindicated

   Safety fears over genetically-modified food have received dramatic
   support after scientists backed a disgraced colleague who said that
   rats fed genetically-modified potatoes suffered health damage.
   The BBC's Pallab Ghosh reports on the genetic food disputeThe public
   statement from 20 scientists has renewed calls for the UK Government
   to impose immediately a moratorium on the use of genetically-modified
   (GM) foods.
   However Prime Minister Tony Blair has rejected the calls from
   consumer, environmental and food pressure groups, as well as
   opposition politicians.

   Cabinet Office Minister Dr Jack Cunningham said the findings
   "were in dispute" and that a moratorium would not be "sensible".
   He told the BBC: "We need to clarify what the scientific outcome of
   these experiments really is. But it is not a reason to ban all
   genetically-modified foods.
   Support for doctor

   The controversy began in August 1998
   when Dr Arpad Pusztai, 68, made a public statement about his fears,
   following a 1.6m study he conducted at the Rowett Research Institute
   (RRI) in Aberdeen, Scotland.
   He told Granada's World in Action that he would not eat the GM food
   and said it was "very, very unfair to use our fellow citizens as
   guinea pigs".
   Within 48 hours he was suspended in humiliation and later effectively
   forced to retire. The RRI said he had misinterpreted his results.
   But now the group of scientists, drawn from 13 different countries,
   have re-examined his work and signed a joint memorandum saying his
   conclusions were justified. The group included toxicologists, genetic
   engineers and medical experts.
   Dr Vyvyan Howard: "We are going to have to test these plants like
   pharmaceutical agents""We found that his data is sound", their
   spokesman, Dr Vyvyan Howard, a toxipathologist at Liverpool
   University, told the BBC.
   He said: "Dr Puztai did some direct hazard assessment, got some
   unexpected results and then spoke out. I think he was right."
   Dr Howard said a new safety regime was needed: "We're going to have to
   test these plants like pharmaceutical agents. This takes years and
   costs about $400m to bring a new drug to market because of the level
   of testing."
   However Professor Phillip James, director of RRI, stuck by his actions
   over Dr Putzai, saying the research was incomplete and unchecked.
   Immune system and organ damage
   Dr Pusztai's experiments involved feeding rats on GM potatoes for 10
   days. He found that some of the rats' immune systems were weakened.
   He also found that some organs shrank or did not develop properly,
   including the kidney, the spleen and the brain.
   The cause of these problems is not known and the group of scientists
   has demanded immediate funding to investigate.
   An audit carried out by the RRI last year cleared Dr Pusztai of fraud
   but said there was no basis for his conclusions. The group of
   scientists has now savagely criticised that audit saying it contained
   "serious flaws" and that a "great injustice" had been committed.

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