Heroic Scientist Who
Warned Of GM Food
Danger Vindicated
By Geoffrey Lean
The Independent (London)
The scientist who suggested that genetically modified foods could damage health - and was comprehensively rubbished by Government ministers and the scientic establishment as a result - is to have his reputation dramatically vindicated..
Britain's top medical journal, The Lancet is shortly to publish Arpad Puzstai's research showing changes in the guts of rats fed with GM potatoes. This will reignite fears that eating GM foods may endanger human health.
The Government has sought to discredit Dr Puzstai's work on the grounds that it has not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Other scientists have made similar claims and attacked it as "flawed" and unpublishable.
Publication of the article will encourage other scientists to try to repeat the experiments, kickstarting further scientific investigation into whether GM foods pose a threat to health or not.
Galley proofs of the article have already been sent to Dr Puzstai, and his co-author Dr Stanley Ewen, SeniorLecturer in Pathology at Aberdeen University. Late last week David McNamee, the journal's Executive Editor, said that it will be published "soon."
The research is important because few papers have so far been published on the health effects of GM foods, despite the rapidity with which they spread onto supermarket shelves. Indeed Dr Puzstai - who was travelling in europe last week and unable to comment on the news - began his experiments becuise he could find only one previous peer-reviewed study, led by a scientist from Monsanto, the GM food giant, which had found no ill-effects.
He started three years research - funded by the Scottish Office to the tune of #1.6 million - at Aberdeen's Rowett Research Institute as a self-confessed "very enthusiastic supporter" of GM technology, who fully expected his experiments to give it "a clean bill of health."
The 68 year-old scientist, who has published 270 sceintific papers and is acknowledged as the leading authority in his field, fed rats on three strains of genetically engineered potatoes and one ordinary one. In his first full interview, after being gagged by his institute, he told the Independent on Sunday last March; " I was absolutely confident I wouldn't find anything. But the longer I spent on the experiments, the more uneasy I became."
His findings sparked public concern, and ignited a furious row about GM foods, after he briefly mentioned them, with the Institute's permission, on a television programme last year. They contradicted repaeted assurances from the Prime Minister down, that GM food is safe, and undermined the assumption behind the regulation of genetically altered crops that there is no substantial difference between them and their conventional equivalents.
Despite his eminence, Dr Puztai - who came to Britain after the suppression of the 1956 Hungarian rising beacuse of the country's "tolerance" - underwent one of the most extraodinary treatments ever meeted out to a reputable scientist.
He was suspended from his work on the experiments, his computers were sealed, his data confiscated and he found himself "sent to Coventry" by his colleagues. He was forced into retirement and forbidden to talk about his work.
He came under comprehensive attack from ministers and the scientific establishment. Sir Robert May, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, accused him of violating "every canon of scientific rectitude". The Royal Society claimed that his work was "flawed in many aspects of design, execution and analysis" and said that "no conclusions could be drawn from it." And Professor Tom Sanders, of Kings College, London. said that none of the major scientific journals would publish the research.
Ministers enthusiastically joined in. Cabinet enforcer Dr Jack Cunningham, who is in charge of the Government's GM strategy, said Dr Pusztai's work had been "comprehensively discredited" , and top Downing Street advisers consistently stressed it should be disregarded because it had not been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Dr Pusztai retorted that he was eager to publish, and pointed out that the scientific criticism was based on incomplete information that he had put on the internet at the Institute's request, while being denied full access to his data, which was only released to him this spring.