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Genetics update:
Memorandum from 20 scientists PLUS 5 'misleading statements' by Jack Cunningham. (Press release from ALLSORTS 18th Feb 99)

Six months ago Dr. Pusztai voiced his concern in a TV programme that present testing procedures to establish the safety of foodstuffs containing genetically modified (GM) material may not be adequate. Two days later he was suspended by the Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen, for being responsible for the release of misleading information, gagged and threatened by legal action if he spoke out in his own defence.

All his scientific data were confiscated and, to establish whether or not he had committed fraud, an Audit Committee was set up. Its remit was to investigate whether, as Dr. Pusztai claimed, the growth and immune responsiveness of rats fed diets containing GM potatoes was depressed.

Regrettably, although a Report was written on the conclusion made by the Audit Committee, this has only been discussed by selected people in line with the Rowett's original intention that "these new findings will not be released by the Institute but will be scrutinized by collaborating groups of scientists and official expert committees".

Unfortunately, neither the results of the GM research nor of the Audit have been fully revealed. Instead, several months later the Rowett published a summary of the conclusions of the Audit Report which stated unequivocally that Dr. Pusztai's conclusions were not justified by his experimental data.


Those of us who have known Dr. Pusztai's work or have collaborated with him, were shocked by the harshness of his treatment by the Rowett and even more by the impenetrable secrecy surrounding these events. It is an unacceptable code of practice by the Rowett and its Director, Professor James, to set themselves up as arbiters or judges of the validity of data which could have such a profound importance not only for scientists, but also for the public and its health.

Fortunately, to comply with the Audit rules, the Rowett had to return Dr. Pusztai's data and give him the right to comment on the Audit Report. Although the results included in this report appeared to be arbitrarily selected and biased towards brushing aside the conclusions of his experimental findings, the data contained within the Audit Report itself nevertheless showed very clearly that the transgenic GNA-potato had significant effects on immune function and this alone is sufficient to vindicate entirely Dr. Pusztai's statements.

Dr. Pusztai decided to make his response to the Director of the Rowett and SOAEFDS (Scottish Office, who funded the project) in the form of an Alternative Report. However, the existence of his Report has never been acknowledged. In the interest of transparency and to follow the tradition of scientific exchange of views and data between scientists, and to peer-review his findings before publication, a number of independent scientists approached Dr. Pusztai with the view to study his results in detail and have given us their written reviews.


The independent scientists who have reviewed Dr. Pusztai's data and case, and who agreed with the content of this Memorandum, are: Prof. K. Baintner, Department of Physiology, Pannon Agricultural University, Kaposvar, Hungary Prof. J. Cummins, Emeritus Prof. Genetics, Ontario, Canada Dr. S.W.B. Ewen, Department of Pathology, Aberdeen Royal Hospitals, Aberdeen, Scotland, UK Prof. R. Finn, Department of Medicine, The University of Liverpool, United Kingdom Dr. M.F. Fuller, Stony Brook, New York, USA Prof. B.C. Goodwin, Schumacher College, Dartington, Devon, United Kingdom Dr. J. Hoppichler, Federal Institute for Less-Favoured and Mountainous Areas, Vienna, Austria Dr. C.V. Howard, Fetal and Infant Toxico-Pathology, The University of Liverpool, United Kingdom Dr. J. Koninkx, Department of Pathology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Utrecht, The Netherlands Prof. A. Krogdahl, Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, Oslo, Norway Dr. K. Lough, Bankhead, Aberdeen, Scotland (formerly of the Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen, Scotland, UK) Prof. F.V. Nekrep, Biotechnical Faculty, Zootechnical Department, University of Ljubljana, Slovenija Prof. S. Pierzynowski, Department of Animal Physiology, University of Lund, Sweden Prof. S. Pongor, Protein Structure and Function Group, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Trieste, Italy Prof. I. Pryme, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Bergen, Norway Prof. J. Rhodes, Gastroenterology Research Group, The University of Liverpool, United Kingdom Dr. L. Rubio, Department of Animal Nutrition, Estacion Experimental del Zaidin, Granada, Spain Prof. M. Sajgo, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Godollo University of Agriculture, Hungary Prof. U. Schumacher, Department of Neuroanatomy, University of Hamburg, Germany Dr. B. Tappeser, Institute for Applied Ecology, Freiburg, Germany


The reviews written by these scientists allowed us to compare the conclusions of both the Audit and the Alternative Reports and to establish the validity of Dr. Pusztai's claims. No data will be given here but, as in any referee's report, we give our summary assessment and conclude that the data would be acceptable for scientific papers. In light of the personal harm done to Dr. Pusztai we conclude also that it is imperative to make available the reviews as well as our conclusion to the public, either as publications in scientific journals or otherwise. There is no doubt in our minds that the reviews will remove the stigma of alleged fraud and will restore Dr. Pusztai's scientific credibility.

We are of the opinion that although some of the results are preliminary, they are sufficient to exonerate Dr. Pusztai by showing that the consumption of GNA-GM-potatoes by rats led to significant differences in organ weight and depression of lymphocyte responsiveness compared to controls. There was also strong evidence that GNA-GM tubers were not substantially equivalent to parent potatoes and indeed the two lines of GNA-GM-potatoes in the study were also different. This makes a very strong case for the necessity of performing further work to elucidate the toxico-pathological importance of these findings. Unfortunately, as publication of scientific papers is a long-drawn out process, and as there is an urgent need to bring these data into the public arena right now such that the safety and hazards presented by GM crops could be properly debated and assessed, we decided to publish this Memorandum.

Signed by: Prof. E. Van Driessche Laboratory of Protein Chemistry, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium and Prof. T.C. Bøg-Hansen The Protein Laboratory, University of Copenhagen, Denmark


5 'misleading statements' by Jack Cunningham
  • Number 1. "We are certainly a lot closer to the consumer organisations and the environmental organisations [than to the GM food Industry]"
    Fact: According to parliamentary questions answered last year, between the 16th of June 1997 and the 24th of July 1998 there were 56 official meetings between the biotech industry and the government compared to 6 meetings with environmental and consumer groups.

  • Number 2. "None of our advice is saying that there is a case for a moratorium on these matters." "May I say that nothing was more misleading or irresponsible than the leader of the opposition saying last week in the House that English Nature had called for a moratorium on these matters. It certainly has not done so."
    Fact: According to their press release, English Nature, the statutory advisor to the government on nature conservation in England, has "consistently called for a moratorium on the commercial widespread release of two types of genetically modified crops herbicide resistant and insect resistant". These are the only types of genetically engineered crops that may be grown in the near future.

  • Number 3.: "No-one is advising ministers here that there is a risk to public health. No-one is saying that products should be withdrawn from the market. There are out and out opponents of the processes whose position is well known and well understood. They've produced no scientific evidence, no force of argument, no intellectual case for what they are saying."
    Fact: Today it was reported that the government had failed to release a report by the biotechnology unit at the DETR which raised major concerns about the impact of GM crops on wildlife. Last Friday 20 scientists (see list below), said that there was an urgent need to bring the research of Dr.Pusztai (the scientist sacked for expressing concerns about the lack of adequate safety testing) into the public arena so that the safety and hazards presented by GM crops could be properly assessed. The scientific community is clearly divided on the health and environmental safety of the genetic engineering of food crops. Yesterday 29 organisations, ranging from Action Aid to the TownsWomens Guild called upon the government for a five year moratorium on all releases of GM crops, imports of GM food and all patents on living organisms..

  • Number 4. "It is simply not sensible to conclude that if a laboratory experiment with a known toxin added caused damage to rats, that all other GM potatoes are therefore unsafe."
    Fact: He has clearly not looked at the research, nor it seems have many of the other so-called experts who have repeated the same argument. The potatoes concerned were genetically engineered (GE) with a snowdrop lectin. It is not true that all lectins are toxic Dr. Pusztai, a leading authority on lectins, who has published some 270 scientific papers, had been working with the snowdrop lectin for seven years and was using it precisely because it was not thought to be toxic to mammals. Lectins are a family of molecules that recognise and bind to sugars. The human body, for example, contains many different lectins. The reason that Dr. Pusztai's research was so significant is because a control group of potatoes which had the snowdrop lectin added to them did not affect the rats in the same way as the potatoes genetically engineered with the snowdrop lectin even though the lectin was present in both. This points to the process of genetic engineering itself the same process used for the genetically engineered foods currently approved for human consumption in the UK, none of which has been tested to see if it has the same effects on the immune system or internal organs.

  • Number 5. "The scientists who spoke out have not as yet provided any evidence to our advisory groups, to our scientists. They have been asked for it now for some considerable time. As soon as they do make their findings available to us of course we shall examine them quickly and comprehensively."

    Fact: Twenty-one scientists from twelve countries contacted Dr.Pusztai and asked to look in detail at the research data, the official Audit Report carried out by the Rowett, and the 'Alternative Report' written by Pusztai himself as the co-ordinator of the project. These scientists include highly respected pathologists, geneticists, immunologists, physiologists, and molecular biologists from a dozen countries. On Friday they released statements vindicating Pusztai's original conclusions and condemning the Rowett for their handling of the issue and for omitting essential data from the Audit Report.

    However the government has had all the information which was reviewed by the international group of scientists, for three months. Dr. Pusztai sent all the information to the Scottish Office, the relevant government authority, by recorded delivery on the 22nd of October last year.

    They subsequently acknowledged receipt of these documents. The only one of the scientists to have been contacted by the ACNFP (government's advisory committee) is Dr. Stanley Ewen, who has been conducting related, but separate, research of his own. It is not yet available because it is about to be published and peer reviewed. Dr.Pusztai was criticised for commenting on his research before it had undergone this kind of peer review, so it seems wise for Dr. Ewen to validate his own findings by first following the scientific protocol. Both Dr. Pusztai and Dr. Ewen are, however, asking to be called to give evidence to a parliamentary committee.
    For further information please contact Luke Anderson on 07957 188621

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