fw from GM Watch

1.Dr Pusztai on the 10th anniversary of GM safety scandal
2.The Pusztai scandal laid bare

NOTE: On the 10th August 1998 the GM debate changed forever with the 
broadcast of a programme on British TV about GM food safety featuring 
a brief but revealing interview with Dr Arpad Pusztai about his 
research into this issue.
  Item 1 is Dr Pusztai's comment on the anniversary, while item 2 is 
GM Watch's review of the scandal he helped expose and the attacks he 
subsequently suffered.


1.	 Dr Pusztai on 10th anniversary of GM safety scandal

I thought that I should write to you on the 10th anniversary of my 
150 seconds of TV "fame" and tell you what I think now.  It is very 
appropriate to write to you because you have provided the most 
comprehensive service to inform people about the shenanigans of the 
GM biotechnology industry and its advocates.

On this anniversary I have to admit that, unfortunately, not much has 
changed since 1998.  In one of the few sentences I said in my 
broadcast ten years ago, I asked for a credible GM testing protocol 
to be established that would be acceptable to the majority of 
scientists and to people in general.  10 years on we still haven't 
got one.  Instead, in Europe we have an unelected EFSA GMO Panel with 
no clear responsibility to European consumers, which invariably 
underwrites the safety of whatever product the GM biotech industry is 
pushing onto us.

All of us asked for independent, transparent and inclusive research 
into the safety of GM plants, and particularly those used in foods. 
There is not much sign of this either.  There are still "many 
opinions but very few data"; less than three dozen peer-reviewed 
scientific papers have been published describing the results of work 
relating to GM safety that could actually be regarded as being of an 
academic standard; and the majority of even these is from 
industry-supported labs.  Instead we have the likes of Tony Trewavas 
and others writing unsupported claims for the safety of GM food and 
defaming people like Rachel Carson who can no longer defend herself; 
not that she needs to be defended from such nonentities.

In normal times one would not pay much attention to such people 
desperately trying to be seen as the advocates of true science, but 
these are not normal times.  The mostly engineered (GM engineered) 
food crisis gives the GM biotech industry and its warriors an 
opportunity to come to the fore with claims that GM is the only way 
to save a hungry world; a claim not much supported by responsible 
bodies, such as the IAASTD.  The advocates of GM also now think that 
they have found a chink in the armoury of people's resolve that they 
can exploit by telling us that we would not be able to feed our 
animals without GM feedstuffs.  In this way, they hope to bring in GM 
by the backdoor.  Please remember that whatever our animals eat, we 
shall also get back indirectly.  Rather ominously, there has been no 
work whatever to show the safety of the meat of GM-fed animals.

We must not underestimate the financial and political clout of the GM 
biotechnology industry.  Most of our politicians are committed to the 
successful introduction of GM foods.  We must therefore use all means 
at our disposal to show people the shallowness of these claims by the 
industry and the lack of credible science behind them, and then trust 
to people's good sense, just as in 1998, to see through the falseness 
of the claims for the safety of untested GM foods.

Let's hope that on the 20th anniversary I shall not have to write 
another warning letter about the dangers of untested GM foods!

Best wishes to all
Arpad Pusztai


2.		The Pusztai scandal laid bare

(text originally published by GM Watch on the 10th August 2005)

... on the 10th August 1998 the GM debate changed forever.

The story began three years earlier.  That's when the UK government's 
Scottish Office commissioned a three-year multi-centre research 
programme into the safety of GM food under the coordination of Dr 
Arpad Pusztai.  At that time there was not a single publication in a 
peer-reviewed journal on the safety of GM food.

Dr Pusztai, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, was an 
eminent scientist. He was the world's leading expert on the plant 
proteins known as lectins. He had published three books and over 270 
scientific studies.

He and his team fought off competition from 28 other research 
organisations from across Europe to be awarded the GBP1.6 million 
contract by the Scottish Office.  The project methodology was also 
reviewed and passed by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences 
Research Council (BBSRC) - the UK government's main funding body for 
the biological sciences.

The research involved feeding GM potatoes to rats and monitoring 
physiological changes.  By late 1997 preliminary results from the 
rat-feeding experiments were showing totally unexpected and worrying 
changes in the size and weight of the rat's body organs.  Liver and 
heart sizes were getting smaller, and so was the brain. There were 
also indications that the rats' immune systems were weakening.

Dr Pusztai was interviewed for a programme about GM food being made 
by Granada TV's 'The World in Action'.  The filming took place in 
late June 1998 with the agreement of the director of the Rowett 
Institute, Professor James, and in the presence of the Rowett 
Institute's press officer.   The 'World in Action' interview was 
broadcast on the evening of Monday 10th August 1998.

Later that evening Professor James congratulated Dr Pusztai on his TV 
appearance, commenting on 'how well Arpad had handled the questions'. 
The next day a further press release from the Rowett noted that 'a 
range of carefully controlled studies underlie the basis of Dr 
Pusztai's concerns'.  However, reportedly following two calls to the 
Rowett from the Prime Minister's Office, the Government, the Royal 
Society and the Rowett launched a vitriolic campaign to sack, silence 
and ridicule Dr Pusztai.

He was accused of unprofessional conduct because his work had not 
been peer-reviewed. However, his research subsequently passed 
peer-review after being reviewed by a larger than usual panel of 
scientists and was published (see below).  Many people also take the 
view that in circumstances where research is giving rise to serious 
concerns that may need to be addressed sooner rather than later, it 
is acceptable for scientists to act as whistle blowers and draw 
attention to the problems their research is uncovering even prior to 
peer-reviewed publication.

The Government criticised the methodology of Pusztai's research 
despite the fact that this had been approved in advance by its own 
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.  Neither the 
Government nor any other official body has ever repeated or refined 
Dr Pusztai's experiments to test the validity of his results.

The Royal Society and its leading Fellows were key players in the 
attacks on Dr Pusztai from the time he went public with doubts about 
the safety of GM foods.  In February 1999, for instance, nineteen 
Fellows of the Royal Society condemned Pusztai, in all but name, in a 
letter published in the national press.  Among the signatories was 
Peter Lachmann, who played a key role in the attacks on Pusztai.

Three months later in May 1999 the Royal Society published a partial 
'peer review' of Pusztai's then unpublished research.  This review 
was based not on a properly prepared paper, like that Pusztai and his 
collaborator Ewen submitted to The Lancet  for peer-review, but on a 
far-from-complete internal report intended for use by Pusztai's 
research team at the Rowett Institute.

Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, described the Royal Society 
review as 'a gesture of breathtaking impertinence to the Rowett 
Institute scientists who should be judged only on the full and final 
publication of their work.'

The Royal Society's review was organised by members of a working 
group appointed by the Society in coordination with the Society's 
officers. The Royal Society claimed that anyone who had already 
commented on the Pusztai affair had been excluded from this decision 
making process in order to avoid bias.  However, William Hill, 
Patrick Bateson, Brian Heap and Eric Ash, who were all involved, were 
all among the co-signatories of the letter condemning Pusztai that 
had been published in The Daily Telegraph back in February.

In addition, four key people involved, including the Chair of the 
working group, Noreen Murray, as well as Brian Heap, Rebecca Bowden 
and Sir Aaron Klug, were all part of the earlier working group that 
had issued the Royal Society's 1998 report supporting GM foods.

There were other issues of bias. For instance, William Hill, the 
chair of the Pusztai working group, was also the deputy chair of the 
Roslin Institute, famous for genetically modifying animals and for 
cloning Dolly the sheep.  Roslin in turn had links to Geron Biomed 
for whom Lachmann consulted.  Similarly, Noreen Murray was the wife 
of the co-founder of Europe's first biotechnology company, Biogen.

Undaunted by the Royal Society's attack on their unpublished work, 
Pusztai and his co-researcher, Prof Stanley Ewen, submitted their 
final paper on their experiments to The Lancet.  It was sent to six 
reviewers, double the normal number, and a clear majority were in 
favour of its publication.

However, prior to publication the Lancet's editor Richard Horton 
received a phone call from Peter Lachmann, the former Vice-President 
of the Royal Society.  According to Horton, Lachmann called him 
'immoral' for publishing something he knew to be 'untrue'.  Towards 
the end of the conversation Horton says Lachmann also told him that 
if he published Pusztai's paper, this would 'have implications for 
his personal position' as editor.

The Guardian broke the news of Horton being threatened in November 
1999 in a front-page story. It quoted Horton saying that the Royal 
Society had acted like a Star Chamber over the Pusztai affair.  'The 
Royal Society has absolutely no remit to conduct that sort of 
inquiry.'  Lachmann denied threatening Horton although he admitted 
making the phone call in order to discuss the pending publication.

The Guardian also talked of a GM 'rebuttal unit' operating from 
within the Royal Society. According to the journalist Andy Rowell, 
who helped research The Guardian article, Rebecca Bowden, who had 
coordinated the Pusztai peer-review and who had worked for the 
Government's Biotechnology Unit before joining The Royal Society in 
1998, admitted to the paper, 'We have an organization that filters 
the news out there. It's really an information exchange to keep an 
eye on what's happening and to know what the government is having 
problems about  its just so that I know who to put up.'

The attacks on The Lancet editor and his decision to publish 
Pusztai's paper continued. Sir Aaron Klug, vigorously opposed the 
publication of Pusztai's research, saying it was fatally flawed in 
design because the protein content of the diets which control groups 
of rats were fed on was not the same as that of the other diets. 
Pusztai commented: 'In fact, the paper clearly states that ALL diets 
had the same protein content and were iso-energetic.  I cannot assume 
that Sir Aaron is not sufficiently intelligent to read a simple 
statement as that, so the only conclusion I can come to is that he 
deliberately briefed the reporters with something that was untrue.'

Richard Horton remained unbowed.  'Stanley Ewen and Arpad Pusztai's 
research letter,' he wrote, 'was published on grounds of scientific 
merit, as well as public interest'.  What Sir Aaron Klug from the 
Royal Society cannot 'defend is the reckless decision of the Royal 
Society to abandon the principles of due process in passing judgement 
on their work.  To review and then publish criticism of these 
researchers' findings without publishing either their original data 
or their response was, at best, unfair and ill-judged'.

The attacks continue unabated. Peter Lachmann's successor as 
Biological Secretary of the Royal Society, Patrick Bateson, told 
readers of the British Association's journal Science and Public 
Affairs that The Lancet had only published Pusztai's research 'in the 
face of objections by its statistically-competent referees' (June 
2002, Mavericks are not always right). Bateson, presumably 
deliberately, inverts the fact that Pusztai's Lancet  paper 
successfully came through a peer review process that was far more 
stringent than that applying to most published papers.

In an article in The Independent, giving the Royal Society's views on 
why the public no longer trusts experts like themselves - 'Scientists 
blame media and fraud for fall in public trust' - Pusztai's work is 
categorised as 'fraud'.  Pusztai's peer reviewers, we are told in the 
article, 'refused it for publication, citing numerous flaws in its 
methods - notably that the rats in the experiment had not been fed GM 
potatoes, but normal ones spiked with a toxin that GM potatoes might 
have made.'  Almost every word of this is straight fabrication. 
There was no fraud.  Rats were fed GM potatoes.  The publication of 
Pusztai's Lancet  paper was supported by a clear majority of its peer 
reviewers, etc. etc.  It is particularly ironic that such a travesty 
should have been published in an article reporting the Royal 
Society's concerns about the reporting of science in the media.

In February 2002 a new Royal Society report on GM crops was published 
as an update to the Society's September 1998 report on GM.  The 
expert group which produced it was much more broadly based than in 
'98 and the report took a noticeably more cautious line.  'British 
Scientists Turn on GM Foods', ran The Guardian's headline on a report 
which included an admission 'that GM technology could lead to... 
unpredicted harmful changes in the nutritional status of foods'.

The expert group was chaired by Jim Smith, who had sat on the 
Society's Pusztai working group, and tucked away inside the report 
was a paragraph on Pusztai. Once again, it was designed to mislead.

The first part of the paragraph read: 'In June 1999, the Royal 
Society published a report, review of data on possible toxicity of GM 
potatoes, in response to claims made by Dr Pusztai (Ewen and Pusztai, 
1999). The report found that Dr Pusztai had produced no convincing 
evidence of adverse effects from GM potatoes on the growth of rats or 
their immune function.

The Royal Society report references the phrase 'claims made by Dr 
Pusztai' - claims it said it had reviewed - to the article published 
by Pusztai and Ewen in The Lancet in 1999. In fact, however, the 
Royal Society's partial review of Pusztai's research was published 
months before the Lancet article appeared. The Royal Society thus 
conceals the fact that it had only ever reviewed part of Pusztai's 
data, condemning him ahead of publication of his actual paper.

The 2002 report continued: 'It concluded that the only way to clarify 
Dr Pusztai's claims would be to refine his experimental design and 
carry out further studies to test clearly defined hypotheses focused 
on the specific effects reported by him.  Such studies, on the 
results of feeding GM sweet peppers and GM tomatoes to rats, and GM 
soya to mice and rats, have now been completed and no adverse effects 
have been found (Gasson and Burke, 2001).'

But the Gasson and Burke paper, to which these further feeding 
studies are referenced by the Society, was not a piece of primary 
research but an 'opinion' piece written by two pro-GM scientists, 
Mike Gasson and Derek Burke.  Worse, one of t he two further studies 
mentioned had not even been published, except by way of summary, i.e 
it had never been fully peer-reviewed.  In other words, the Royal 
Society uses an unpublished and un-peer-reviewed study to attack 
Pusztai, two years after it had condemned him for speaking to the 
media without first publishing peer-reviewed work.

In response to criticism, the Royal Society admitted that the work in 
question remained unpublished but said this was not a problem 
because, 'it had been discussed at international scientific 
conferences'.  By this definition, however, Pusztai's research would 
have been equally validated before the Society ever launched its 
partial review as it had been presented at an international 
conference prior to the Society's review.  Curiously, the Royal 
Society has also described the opinion piece by Gasson and Burke as 
'primary research,' even though it is a literature review involving 
no lab work.

Andy Rowell, author of a book that deals extensively with the Royal 
Society's role in the Pusztai affair, writes, 'the fundamental flaw 
in the scientific establishment's response is not that they try and 
damn Pusztai with unpublished data, nor is it that they have 
overlooked published studies [supporting Pusztai's concerns], but 
that in 1999, everyone agreed that more work was needed. Three years 
later, that work remains to be undertaken... [A] scientific body, 
like The Royal Society, that allocates millions in research funds 
every year, could have funded a repeat of Pusztai's experiments.'

Nobody ever has.

{ Much of the information above comes from Andy Rowell's book, 'Don't 
Worry: Its Safe To Eat'. (Earthscan, 2003, ISBN 1853839329).  See 
also: }