GENTECH archive


genetic manipulation - 2 brit items


Committee 'biased towards bio-firms'

By Andrew Mullins and Fran Abrams

Members of the Government committee that advises ministers on genetically
modified food are so deeply involved in genetic research that they are
unlikely to question it, a member of the committee said last night.

Several members of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes
have links to the biotechnology companies, while others are academics
researching the subject.

Kate Venables, a senior lecturer at the National Heart and Lung
Foundation, who was appointed to the committee in May last year, said its
remit was too narrow for it to address public concerns. "Scientists who
are desperately excited by the idea of genetic modification are not going
to be deflected from this as an interesting and exiting research tool.

"If companies have put millions of pounds into research of something or
other then I suspect the Government is going to listen to them. Wouldn't
you?" she asked.

She was backed by other experts. Julie Shephard, of the Consumers'
Association, was nominated by three organisations for a place on the
committee but was rejected. There have been rumours that she was ruled out
because of her sceptical views on the subject.

"I would not dream of accusing anybody of acting for improper reasons
because of links with commercial interests. I don't think that happens.
But I do think it happens in a more subtle way. You are hardly likely to
question the fundamental assumptions about its safety if it would mean
questioning your whole career," she said.

With political pressure mounting from biotechnology firms including the
American corporation Monsanto, the Downing Street policy unit is now
arguing that the spread of the foods in Britain is inevitable.

The view of Liz Lloyd, who has responsibility for the subject in the unit
and who met Monsanto representatives last year, was apparent when Tony
Blair ruled out a moratorium on the crops at Prime Minister's Questions on

The only minister who has continued to argue for a moratorium, Michael
Meacher, looks increasingly isolated on the subject.

The pressure for full-scale production of the crops is not just coming
from companies within Britain, though. As reported in The Independent on
Sunday last year, President Bill Clinton phoned Mr Blair to argue that
Britain should accept genetically modified food.

INDEPENDENT Feb 13GM food harmed rats, says research

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

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 rats.

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

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

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," he said.

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 mixed up."

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.


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