- 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
- 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"
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.