SnowBall archive


GE - news 7th March

1) I was right, says GM row scientist
2) How I told the truth and was sacked [Pusztai]
3) Testing times for firms that say no to gene foods When is GM-free not
GM-free? That is the big problem, 
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch; 03/01/99)
5) FOOD for thought: Canadians have largely ignored the issue of 
bio-engineered food.

INDEPENDENT (Sunday) March 8
1) I was right, says GM row scientist
ALARMING evidence that eating genetically modified (GM) food may harm 
health is to be presented to MPs tomorrow, writes Geoffrey Lean. The 
previously suppressed research by Dr Arpad Pusztai shows vital organs may 
be damaged and immune systems weakened, making epidemics worse and 
increasing cancer.
The research, to be submitted to the House of Commons Select Committee on 
Science and Technology, is likely to reignite the controversy over Dr 
Pusztai, of Aberdeen's Rowett Research Institute, who sparked a fierce 
scientific and political row last month.
Until now the dispute has centred on only skimpy accounts of his research, 
funded by the Scottish Office, because his data - based on 10,000 samples 
from rats fed GM and ordinary potatoes - were "confiscated" and his 
computer sealed when he made his concerns known on television last summer. 
Dr Pusztai was suspended, forced into retirement, and his research 
He has only now recovered the evidence and subjected it to independent 
analysis for the first time. He will not give details before the results 
are seen by MPs, but says they broadly confirm his preliminary findings.
INDEPENDENT (Sunday) March 8
2) How I told the truth and was sacked [Pusztai]

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Correspondent
NO ONE, says Dr Arpad Pusztai, could have been more surprised to find rats 
he had given genetically modified (GM) food developing alarming 
ill-effects. He had been "a very enthusiastic supporter" of the 
technology, and fully expected his experiments to give it "a clean bill of 
health", he said.
"I was totally taken aback; no doubt about it," he told the Independent on 
Sunday last week. "I was absolutely confident I wouldn't find anything. 
But the longer I spent on the experiments, the more uneasy I became."
His unexpected findings have landed him, bewildered, in one of the hottest 
scientific controversies for years. They have abruptly ended his career, 
and destroyed his international reputation. He was magisterially rebuked 
by a score of Britain's most august Fellows of the Royal Society, attacked 
by a collaborator on the study, and accused by Sir Robert May, the 
Government's respected Chief Scientific Adviser, of violating "every canon 
of scientific rectitude". Only now is he able to reply.
I spent nearly six hours with him in his modest semi-detached home in 
Aberdeen on Wednesday, as he told his side of the story in full for the 
first time. He is a small, vital man - grey-faced with the strain (he has 
recently had a minor heart attack which he ascribes to it), but retaining 
a self-deprecating humour - he spoke of the "intolerable burden" of being 
unable to clear his name.
>From the day after he briefly mentioned some of his findings on television 
in August until three weeks ago, he was bound to confidentiality by his 
employer for 37 years, Aberdeen's Rowett Research Institute. Since then he 
has been preparing to make his case before the House of Commons Select 
Committee on Science and Technology tomorrow.
"All I need is a chance," he said. "For the past seven months I haven't 
had one. I could not even defend myself against very heinous accusations. 
Sometimes I felt I should just get on a plane and go away. I couldn't take 
It has been a devastating end to a brilliant career. He is the son of a 
Hungarian wartime resistance hero and fled when the 1956 rising was 
suppressed. But he had published his first scientific papers while still 
at university, and the Ford Foundation found him in an Austrian refugee 
camp. They gave him a scholarship to study anywhere in the world he chose.
He picked Britain, partly "because I knew I was an odd sort of guy, and 
the country then had a certain tolerance". He was recruited to the 
Institute in 1963 personally by Dr Richard Synge, a Nobel prizewinner in 
Dr Pusztai, 68, has published 270 scientific papers, and the Institute 
acknowledges he became "probably the world's expert" on lectins, proteins 
used in genetic modification. So valuable was his work he was asked to 
stay on after retirement age.
His nemesis began in 1995, when his group beat 27 contenders to win a 
#1.6m Scottish Office contract to test the effects of GM foods. He was 
particularly interested because he could find only one previous 
peer-reviewed study on feeding them to animals. It was led by a scientist 
from Monsanto, the controversial GM company, and found no ill-effects.
Dr Pusztai fed rats on two strains of potatoes genetically engineered with 
a lectin from snowdrop bulbs, a third with the snowdrop lectin simply 
added and a fourth of ordinary potatoes.
He has been repeatedly accused by top politicians and scientists of merely 
adding a poison to potatoes. But he says he spent six years up to 1990 
proving the snowdrop lectin was safe, even at high concentrations - and it 
is due to his work that it is used in genetic engineering at all.
To his surprise he found the immune systems and brains, livers, kidneys 
and other vital organs of the rats fed the GM potatoes were damaged, but 
not those of the rats fed the ordinary ones or those simply spiked with 
the lectin. This, he says, suggests the genetic modification could be 
largely to blame.
By last summer, he says, the Scottish Office money was running out, and 
the Institute refused funding. He therefore agreed to appear in a World in 
Action documentary, with the Institute's support, to raise the profile of 
the work in the hope of attracting funds. He says the Institute's press 
officer sat through the interview and no objection had been raised to what 
he had said in the seven weeks before screening on 10 August last year.
He was "absolutely surprised" his brief comments hit the headlines, but 
the Institute put out press releases supporting him the same day, and the 
next. But on 12 August he was suspended from work on the experiments. The 
study was stopped.
He worked out his contract until the end of the year, but found himself 
"sent to Coventry" by his colleagues. His computers were "sealed" and all 
his data from the experiments "confiscated". Dr Pusztai was forced into 
An audit committee of four scientists, set up by the Institute, reviewed 
his work and disagreed with his conclusions. He says he was given three 
days to write a reply, without access to his full data.
This reply, which the Institute put on the internet, has been attacked as 
"unpublishable". He agrees and says this is hardly surprising given the 
limitations. He has also been condemned for not publishing a refereed 
scientific paper in the normal way. He says this was impossible without 
access to the complete data, which he has only just recovered.
Martin Polden, of the law firm Ross and Craig and president of the 
Environmental Law Foundation, who has taken up Dr Pusztai's case, says 
this is "a classic case for the need for openness in science". The 
Institute says it has nothing to add to previous statements.
Dr Pusztai insists: "I believe in the technology. But it is too new for us 
to be absolutely sure that what we are doing is right. But I can say from 
my experience if anyone dares to say anything even slightly contra- 
indicative, they are vilified and totally destroyed."
But surely others will do the same research elsewhere? "It would have to 
be a very strong person. If I, with my international reputation, can be 
destroyed, who will stand up?"
3) Testing times for firms that say no to gene foods When is GM-free not
GM-free? That is the big problem, 
reports Terry Slavin
Sunday March 7, 1999
With the backlash against genetically modified (GM) food showing no signs of
abating, more and more food companies are pledging to go GM-free.
This has made for some strange bedfellows. McDonald's and Burger King are the
latest to make common cause with vegetarian and organic food producers as well
as the major food retailers by publicly saying they aim to phase out these
ingredients. But this route is so poorly regulated and perilous that companies
could be excused for wondering if they should bother. Last weekend United
Biscuits and some wholefood firms, which have moved further than most in going
non-GM, were embarrassed when their products tested positive for GM
material in
trials commissioned by the Daily Mail. Two weeks earlier, UB's Linda McCartney
brand meals also tested positive on BBC's Newsnight.
The company has operated a non-GM policy for all its products, including
McVities, for 18 months. The soya in its products is grown in Denmark, which
does not permit GM organisms, and processed at a mill approved by Greenpeace.
Its own tests had been negative. 'I don't know what more we can do,' said an
exasperated spokesman.
But David Welsby, regional director of Protein Technologies International, a
subsidiary of US chemicals giant Dupont, which has 80 per cent of the world
market for non-GM soya-based ingredients, described EU regulation of GM
food as
'a mess'. The DNA testing required under the EU's Novel Food Directive is
difficult to do, and the results are notoriously erratic.
Welsby said: 'Testing isn't a simple black and white procedure. The
test may have picked up the tiniest trace of GM material in the Linda
product - or it could have been a false positive.'PTI sent the same sample of
its own product to several labs: 'One tested completely negative, another
showed 10 per cent [of GM material], one less than 1 per cent and one between
0.1 and 0.5 per cent.'The certification of other foods allows for some
accidental contamination - in the case of organic products, it's 5 per cent -
but the EU allows none for GM foods. As Stephen Ridge, quality assurance
executive of the Somerfield supermarket chain, says: 'The birds and the bees
have a habit of spreading seeds, and these can co-mingle in the supply chain.
In the processing chain co-mingling becomes more of a problem. Yet there's no
percentage below which I don't worry now about contamination.'And uniquely,
EU requires full DNA testing for GM food, rather than the audit of production
processes needed to certify other foods.
'The directive is very ambiguous,' says Welsby. 'It mentions a threshold, but
doesn't say what it should be. It mentions testing, but doesn't define a test
method. It's a mess.'Since 1996, when the US, the biggest soya producer, first
considered mixing Monsanto's Roundup Ready GM soya with the conventional crop,
UK supermarkets have joined environmental groups such as Greenpeace in
campaigning for GM crops to be segregated from normal ones.
Having lost the US battle to Monsanto, most have quietly sought segregated
supplies of non-GM soya in the US, Canada and Brazil - uncertain until the
fortnight whether UK consumers would, like US ones, swallow GM ingredients
The decision is not taken lightly. 'Identity-preserved' soya is about 10 per
cent dearer because farmers are paid a premium not to switch to high-yielding
Ready Roundup. Segregated processing and DNA testing add to costs.
Some companies have different policies in different European markets.
for example, is non-GM in Germany, where the backlash came much earlier,
but as
yet not in the UK, where its products are slated to be delisted by the
Vegetarian Society.
Firms that have gone non-GM have had in effect to take the law into their own
hands, setting up audit trails of 'identity preserved' crops and fixing their
own permitted levels of accidental contamination.
Labelling is another problem. The EU regulation requires labelling only of
foods that contain genetically modified soya and maize, but excludes
ingredients derived from them such as lecithins, soya oil and maize starches,
which are in 60 per cent of the food we eat - everything from baby food to
and chocolate. The EU has promised to clarify the situation for these foods,
but has not yet done so. Welsby points out that some tests can now detect GM
material in lecithins, even though they are excluded from the regulations
because they are classified as an additive. This means a product may be
from proteins, but still test positive. 'Someone could pick this up in a test
and trumpet it in the Daily Mail as genetically modified.'Ridge at Somerfield
said: 'The regulators are moving much more slowly than the media and public.
Retailers are facing the complications we predicted. The more you challenge
suppliers about the GM status of products, the more hedging you get.'While
stores are not labelling their non-GM products because of the uncertainty,
others are risking it.
Lindsay Keenan of Genetix Food Alert, a group co-ordinating the wholefood
trade's efforts to go GM-free, said: 'We're encouraging our members to say
are non-GM on their labels. If [Food Minister] Jeff Rooker wants to take us to
court, he can. We'll get this out in the open.'Frozen food specialist Iceland
has gone furthest: it labels all its products non-GM. But it has been a
In a submission to the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee inquiry
on GM food last week, Iceland chairman Malcolm Walker said the Government
advisory committees were pro-GM and had put up roadblocks.
'We were told we would damage the prosperity of the UK if we raised our
concerns and prevented the progress of this technology,' said Walker.
Bill Wadsworth, Iceland's technical director, said the company could continue
its stance for at least another two years, 'as long as the Government doesn't
allow GM oilseed rape to be grown commercially, and trial crops aren't dumped
in the open market'.
'The issue's increasing profile helps us,' he added. 'But it's not easy. The
politics could change overnight.'
(St. Louis Post-Dispatch; 03/01/99)

As the forces driving the biotechnology revolution advance upon the 
of the world, they are being thwarted by powerful counter-forces: 
fear and legitimate skepticism.
This should no longer come as a shock to **Monsanto**, the United States 
other countries with huge political clout and financial stakes in the 
biotechnology revolution. The uproar over genetically engineered crops in 
Europe and Asia should have taught them by now that they can't outmuscle an 
uninformed, properly skeptical public. After all, they're messing with the 
world's food supply, using technology most people don't understand.
People fear what they don't understand. And to most of the public, 
Americans, the principles and methods of biotechnology are a cipher. The 
public has a right to be skeptical about biotechnology. Its cultural, 
and unintended biological consequences could be as profound and far-reaching.
Bullying and strong-arming are not the way to build public confidence in 
technology or the people selling it. Nor is it the way to address the 
legitimate need to protect human health, cultural continuity and the Earth's 
biodiversity. Yet that is precisely the behavior that the United States and 
five other countries displayed at negotiations sponsored by the United 
last week in Cartagena, Columbia.
The purpose of the negotiations, attended by delegates from 138 
was to write a "biosafety protocol," a set of rules to regulate the global 
trade of genetically modified organisms. About 90 percent of the current 
trade in genetically modified foods involves corn and soy beans. The 
negotiations grew out of the 1996 U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity, 
agreement that calls for protecting varieties of plants and animals. The 
States is the only major country in the world that refused to sign the 
The U.S. and other major grain exporters staked out a position that puts 
economic gain ahead of environmental and health concerns. At the Colombian 
conference they insisted that genetically modified grains and drugs be 
from rules. They also objected to: liability provisions in case of an 
environmental accident; strict labeling requirements on products made from 
genetically modified organisms and any rules that might interfere with the 
booming international trade.
For large companies like **Monsanto** and its Swiss-based rival, 
biotechnology is the future of its products and prosperity. They say such 
products also hold the promise of a better future for the poor in developing 
countries. There, crops modified to produce higher yields could feed more 
hungry people on shrinking amounts of arable land. Clearly, the potential 
good is enormous.
But good for whom? Some skeptics fear that a few large companies holding 
patents to genetically modified organisms could control much of the world 
production of staple food crops. That is a legitimate concern. Others worry 
about the safety of foods made from genetically modified organisms. 
countries don't want to be dumping grounds for foods with untested new gene 
traits, and they resent American pushiness. They worry what will happen if 
certain engineered traits, such as pest resistance, accidentally spread to 
other crops. Could it cause an ecological disaster? If so, who is held 
responsible for the damage, and how can it be undone?
The business of weighing risks and benefits is enormously complex. 
side in the biotechnology debate has anything to gain the longer the public 
lacks the capacity to assess its benefits and risks.
It would be foolish to let those with financial and political 
in genetically modified organisms make the rules about their use.
In fact, the American public and the citizens of the world won't stand 
it. We don't like being muscled by corporations impatient for returns on 
investments in biotechnology. We don't need "public perception campaigns" 
sales pitches to prepare the way for genetically modified foods.
What we need is basic scientific education to help us learn more of the 
brilliant promise of biotechnology. We need to have enough information to 
the right questions about its potential for harm. We need to find ways to 
assess risk. We need more carefully controlled studies of genetically 
organisms. We need rational regulatory mechanisms - local, national and 
global - 
that ensure human health and environmental safety. We need trade 
that preserve economic stability. We need more public discussion of 
biotechnology in the U.N. and at the local library.
They can start the biotech revolution without us. But without us it will 

PUBLICATION The Calgary Herald 
DATE Thu 04 Mar 1999 
Michele Jarvie, For the Calgary Herald 
5) FOOD for thought: Canadians have largely ignored the issue of 
bio-engineered food. Now a citizens' conference is about to tackle the 
- a country dominated by its rural landscape, Canadians tend to show 
little interest in how food gets from the farm to their plates. 
This contrasts sharply with European countries in which food production 
and the ability to manipulate it has generated much debate over social, 
environmental and health concerns. 
``In Europe this whole thing is so contentious,'' says Edna Einsiedel, a 
University of Calgary professor. 
``There's been so much conflict on the issue of biotechnology. They've 
got organizations who uproot crops in the field, try to stop freighters. 
. . . But in Canada we've had very little debate or discussion.'' 
Einsiedel hopes to change that with a conference on food biotechnology 
called Designer Genes at the Dinner Table. 
The March 5-7 event is sponsored by the U of C, the National Institute 
of Nutrition and the Food Biotechnology Communication Network. Pioneered 
in Denmark, this citizen's conference is the first of its kind in 
Biotechnology is the use of living organisms to create or modify 
products (detractors call the end product `Frankenfood'). It encompasses 
everything from boosting pest and herbicide tolerance in crops, to 
speeding growth of fruits and vegetables, and increasing reproduction of 
harvested animals like cattle and pigs. 
Biotechnology brings benefits such as higher productivity on farms, 
better nutritional value in foods, longer shelf life, and improved taste 
of products. 
However, manipulating Mother Nature has its drawbacks. 
Critics warn of health risks to animals and humans from synthetic 
There are fears that crops with increased resistance may mutate into 
out-of-control weeds. 
Another criticism is that crops with built-in pesticides might harm 
birds which feed off insect pests. Also small farmers' livelihoods could 
be at risk if lab-produced foods replace some crops like cocoa. 
As more of these genetically altered products hit supermarket shelves in 
Canada, it's an opportune time to examine the issue, says Einsiedel. 
``This is partly a research project and partly a social experiment,'' 
she says. ``It's also a belief in the idea that ordinary citizens can 
have very intelligent input into the policy-making process.'' 
The conference consists of two days of discussion between experts and a 
panel of 15 citizens selected from the four western provinces. Three are 
from Calgary including the youngest, a 17-year-old student. 
They are a diverse group: A student, two farmers, a letter carrier and 
several with master's degrees. The one thing they have in common is that 
none have a connection to the biotech industry, says Einsiedel. 
``These are not experts. They are your everyday Joe and Mary. They have 
to go through a process of intensive learning to get up to speed on 

Einsiedel won't reveal the names of committee members until the 
conference. She said they are nervous about their role and already some 
representatives of the food industry have tried to find out who they 
are. Anonymity will ensure the group's findings will be fair and 
At the conference, the committee will put key questions to experts in a 
variety of fields, which could include government, industry, 
environment, consumer and health. The audience can submit questions to 
the panel and may get a chance to question the experts directly. 
The panel will write a report and present it on the third day as public 
input into public policy. It will be sent to Ottawa, to industry and the 
The conference is a chance for the public to help develop biotech 
policy. This summer the federal government released a new strategy which 
supports the continued use of biotechnology. An advisory committee will 
advise ministers on ethical, social, economic, scientific, regulatory, 
environmental and health aspects. The panel also plans to canvass the 
public for its views. 
And while Canadians are not as strident in their opposition to 
biotechnology as Europeans, they're not ignorant of the issues. 
In fact, the use of bovine growth hormones (rBST) in dairy cows has been 
quite contentious here. Opponents are worried the treated milk might 
contribute to cancer in humans and are fighting Monsanto Co. to have the 
hormone pulled from the market. 
These critics have some heavy hitters in their corner, such as former 
federal agriculture minister Eugene Whalen. 
In his usual unapologetic way, Whalen says he will use his position as 
the co-chair of the senate agriculture committee to fight against the 
``If Monsanto accepts my challenge to provide the committee with any 
chronic health data on human safety, I will eat my green cowboy hat and 
wash it down with a glass of rBST milk,'' he blustered in a Globe and 
Mail column recently. 
Supercrops are also controversial in Canada. 
``Canola is a good example of a western product. It has been genetically 
modified for a number of traits like herbicide resistance,'' says 
Einsiedel. ``There are a number of social issues around that. Some 
people are concerned about the use of antibiotic markers bred into a 
particular crop. Can people develop antibiotic resistance because of 
Biotechnology raises issues that touch on everyone's life, says 
Einsiedel. ``It's not just what's on the table and is it safe, but how 
is it grown and what kind of impact does it have on our environment?'' 
Interested in attending the Calgary conference? It costs $10 per day for 
an adult or $20 for the full three days. You can register with Deborah 
Eastlick at the University of Calgary at 220-3925. E-mail at 
The Calgary Herald