New ACNFP Chair - from bad to worse! (5/8/2003)

The only surprise here is that a Monsanto employee hasn't been given the job.

Mike Gasson, the new ACNFP chairman, is a close associate of Derek Burke, the first head of ACNFP and someone who has openly campaigned for GM foods even offering advice to other scientists on how to run such a campaign. (for more on Burke: http://ngin.tripod.com/articleBurke.htm)

Gasson and Burke co-authored a much quoted article which claimed that Pusztai's research had been replicated and no problems found, but this turns out to have been an extraordinarily misleading claim - see item 2 - which didn't stop the recent science review from repeating it!

1.Food Standards Agency announces appointment of new ACNFP chairman
2.Pusztai onm Gasson and Burke
1.Food Standards Agency announces appointment of new Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) chairman
Monday, 04 August 2003
Ref: 2003/0398

The Food Standards Agency today announced the appointment of a new Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP).

Professor Mike Gasson will take up the position on 1 September 2003, succeeding Professor Janet Bainbridge who retires on 30 August 2003.

The Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes is an independent body of experts whose remit is to provide advice on matters relating to novel foods and novel food processes.

Professor Gasson is the Head of the Food Safety Science Division at the Institute of Food Research, Norwich, UK and has recently been named as Acting Director of the Institute. He has been involved in gene technology research for over 20 years with a particular interest in the genetics of food-relevant micro-organisms.

Professor Gasson previously served on the ACNFP for nine years from 1992 to 2001, acting as vice-Chairman for four of these, and is currently a Member of the Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ACMSF).

Notes to Editors

1. The Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes is an independent body of experts whose remit is: 'To advise the central authorities responsible in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively on any matters relating to novel foods and novel food processes, including food irradiation, having regard where appropriate to the views of relevant expert bodies.'

2. The Committee is a voluntary body comprising a Chairman and Members appointed for their personal expertise and not to represent particular interests. The Committee's main task is to examine food safety aspects of novel foods and foods subjected to novel processes and advise Ministers accordingly.

3. Professor Janet Bainbridge, the out-going Chairman, took up the appointment on 1 September 1997. This appointment was extended in 2000 for a second term of three years.

4. The appointment of Professor Gasson was made by open competition under the Nolan Rules, which set out the procedures to be adopted when appointing members to public bodies.
From a letter from Arpad Pusztai to the Royal Society
(complete text at http://ngin.tripod.com/300103f.htm):

Your report in May 1999 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 & Burke, 2001)".

For a start the Gasson & Burke paper is an opinion piece Nature Reviews Genetics and, as such, referring to it as an established piece of research is, I am sure you will agree, somewhat misleading in an authorative report by the Royal Society.  Furthermore, looking up the GM pepper and GM tomato feeding study in Gasson & Burke, one finds that this is not a published piece of research but it is a draft submitted by Chinese scientists to an unspecified journal.  It puzzles me how the Royal Society could refer to an unrefereed piece of research as a great advance in GM science and testing in preference to our paper in the Lancet which had been accepted by five of the six referees.  I am sure this must have been a mistake or an oversight by your working group that they would be happy to correct.

At least the other paper referred to (or implied by the RS) which was by Japanese authors, had been published in a (presumably) peer-reviewed journal.  However, I am perplexed by the inclusion of this paper in such a prestigious report as yours.  I already told one of the members of your working group, Dr Chris Leaver, who was at the time very keen to pass this paper on to me for comment, that if this study had been done in the UK, the researchers would have lost their animal licence and the research would have been forcefully terminated.  In this totally unphysiological study it was quite scandalous that in 105 days the young rats were made to suffer as they grew only just over 20 grams in body weight and the mice none at all. Accordingly, from this Japanese study of starving rats one cannot draw any scientifically valid conclusions which makes it puzzling why such an august body as the RS could hold it up as an example of the best in GM food testing and science.

In comparison, as you may remember, in our 110 day study of feeding rats with diets containing GM potatoes, even though it was much maligned by the RS referees, our rats grew well over 300 grams.  Please, let me know if these studies were the best examples of the clarification of "the refined experimental design" the RS report refers to?  Incidentally, it would be also very instructive to know how the Royal Society has managed to influence the design of these experiments carried out by Chinese and Japanese scientists, so that the RS can now claim credit for the completion of these studies in which "no adverse effects have been found"?  And what about studies done in British laboratories?  I have been looking for references to these in the report particularly in view of the strong recommendations in the 1999 May report advocating more and better studies in future. Unfortunately, there were none.  In fact, the lack of British GM feeding studies was confirmed in the Kuiper et al review also referred to in the Royal Society report.  So in the UK we are only left with our Lancet paper.

Finally, I draw your attention to a peer-reviewed scientific review of papers which I published last year on an American educational website to some acclaim:  http://www.actionbioscience.org/biotech/pusztai.html. Hopefully, there will be more to come later this year.

"The scientists who study biotech are inclined to support its development for the same reason that workers at a Lockheed Martin plant are likely to support military spending: their jobs are on the line."

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