7 May 2003
Pusztai raises new GM fears/Pusztai to speak in London May 10
* Scientist who pressed GM panic button raises new food health fears
* Independent Science Panel for a GM-Free Sustainable World
* Quotes from some members of the Independent Science Panel on GM
* Munlochy GM Vigil launches new website
Scientist who pressed GM panic button raises new food health fears
The Sunday Times, May 04, 2003
A SCIENTIST who shocked the world with research claiming that genetically modified (GM) crops might damage human health is to release new findings supporting his warnings, writes Jonathan Leake.
Arpad Pusztai, who lost his job at the prestigious Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen after outlining his findings in a television programme in 1998, will publish the new research this week. It warns that the work carried out by biotechnology companies into the human health hazard from GM food is inadequate and unsafe. It also points to technical defects in the way GM plants are created.
Pusztai's study is contained in a book called Food Safety, a compilation of scientific papers which describes the contaminants and toxins contained in modern foods. In his section, Pusztai brings together all the scientific studies carried out into the safety of GM foods and subjects them to rigorous statistical and scientific scrutiny.
This weekend he said: "We found that there are only a few such studies and they show many problems. In particular, they illustrate that GM foods have never been publicly tested for their safety and wholesomeness. There is increasing research to show they may actually be very unsafe."
The research comes at a crucial time. This autumn the Royal Society is expected to publish the results of the government-sponsored field trials of GM crops. The government is also about to sponsor a nationwide debate on the issue.
However, Britain's Food Standards Agency has completed separate research appearing to confirm some of Pusztai's warnings. It showed that genetically modified DNA in plants can be taken up by gut bacteria in humans and animals. This finding was contrary to previous assurances from biotechnology firms, which had said DNA would be broken down in the gut shortly after consumption.
It raises the possibility that alien genes inserted into crop plants and conferring properties such as antibiotic resistance could be passed on to bacteria, making them resistant, too.
Pusztai had been a plant researcher at the Rowett Institute until he appeared in a World in Action documentary on GM foods to describe how rats fed on GM potatoes had suffered gut lesions, retarded growth and other symptoms.
He spoke fewer than a dozen sentences but his words reverberated around the world, infuriating GM firms and the scientific establishment. They claimed his research had been poorly done and that he should not have revealed the results before having it reviewed by peers.
However, it was later approved and published in the medical journal The Lancet.
Pusztai's first warnings have been echoed by the Royal Society. Its experts last year concluded that GM crops could offer substantial benefits but said too little was known about their potential health impact.
Independent Science Panel for a GM-Free Sustainable World
Embargoed until May 10
In a surprising move, dozens of prominent scientists have joined forces to form an Independent Science Panel (ISP) on GM, to counteract what they see to be a concerted campaign by the government and the scientific establishment in the UK to promote GM under the guise of 'sound' science. "This amounts to open scientific rebellion, possibly unprecedented in history," says Mae-Wan Ho, Director of the Institute of Science in Society, who initiated the move, and confessed to having been taken by surprise, and delighted, by the positive response of the scientists contacted.
Many of the scientists have been feeling frustrated at the lack of open public debate on a whole range of scientific and other issues. The 'discussion meetings' organised by the government are invariably stacked with pro-GM scientists hyping the potential benefits of GM, and giving the public bland assurances that "there is no evidence of harm". It will all change now.
At a special launching conference on May 10 in London, the ISP will release their report, The Case for A GM-Free Sustainable World, the strongest, most complete dossier of evidence ever put together to support their call for a ban on GM crops and widespread adoption of organic sustainable agriculture. This is timed to kick off the GM national debate in the UK. The report has also already attracted considerable international attention.
"We'll give them a case to answer," says Brian John, geomorphologist and environment scientist, who has been working closely with the GM Free Cymru campaign. "Those of us who have looked into the science of GM crops and foods from a community or consumer perspective have been appalled at the apparent abandonment of the precautionary principle and at the control exerted over the scientific agenda by the biotechnology multinationals."
The Report will be sent to the president of the Philippines together with a letter in support of one of the ISP members, Roberto Verzola, Secretary-General of the Philippine Greens, who has initiated a hunger strike to protest his government's approval of Monsanto's Bt maize. The Panel includes Britain's best-loved botanist, broadcaster, writer and tireless campaigner for Mother Earth, David Bellamy OBE, who will lead the launch of the ISP.
Other speakers include Stanley Ewen, Consultant Histopathologist, at Grampian University Hospitals Trust; Malcolm Hooper, Emeritus Professor of Medicinal Chemistry, University of Sunderland; Vyvyan Howard, toxipathologist, University of Liverpool; Arpad Pusztai, formerly senior scientist at Rowett Institute, Scotland, and Gundula Azeez, Policy Manager, Soil Association.
For further details contact Sam Burcher: [email protected] Tel: 44-(0)20-7383-3376, or [email protected] tel: 44-(0)20-8643-0681, or [email protected] tel: 44 (0)20-7272-5636.
Quotes from some members of the Independent Science Panel on GM:
Prof. Miguel Altieri, agroecologist, University of California, Berkeley: "Agroecological farming methods are already reaching about nine million small farmers at one-tenth the cost incurred by official international agricultural subventions, and working miracles to increase food production, as well as the physical and social wellbeing of local communities. This must now be up-scaled to bring the benefits to all."
Prof. David Bellamy, itinerant botanist and campaigner: "At his capital trial, when charged with teaching subversive views to the youth of Athens, Socrates said in his defence, "if in your annoyance, you will finish me off with a single slap, then you will go on sleeping until the end of your days, unless God in his care for you, sends someone to take my place". 2,389 years later the world is still in need of the ethics of true academia".
Prof. Joe Cummins, Emeritus Professor of Genetics at the University of Western Ontario in Canada (Telephone 1-519 681 5477; E-mail: [email protected]): "Commercialization of GM crops seems to have been based on public relations and not on full and truthful scientific reporting. Science has begun to feel the impact of putting commerce ahead of full disclosure and debate."
Prof. Stanley Ewen, histopathologist at Grampian University Hospital Trust, and leader of the Colorectal Cancer Screening Pilot in Grampian Region: "It is unfortunate that very few animal trials of GM human food are available in the public domain in scientific literature. It follows that GM foods have not been shown to be without risk and, indeed, the available scientific experimental results demonstrate cause for concern."
Edward Goldsmith, environmentalist, scholar, author & founding editor of The Ecologist: "Scientists have knowledge in a very limited field of expertise and often have no knowledge at all of all the other areas that are affected by, and impact on their narrow field. This is a very dangerous situation, which is why the public has to have a say on what sort of research should and should not be done."
Dr. Richard Hindmarsh, political ecologist (Ph: 61+ 7 3381 1569; Fax: 61+ 7 3381 1572; Email: [email protected]): "If we are serious about an ecologically sustainable future, then we need to locate the strong precautionary principle at the centre of regulation for the environmental release of genetically engineered organisms."
Professor Malcolm Hooper, medicinal chemist, University of Sunderland, UK: "The known effects of the herbicide glufosinate ammonium are sufficient to halt all field trials immediately, until critical questions about the metabolism, storage and reconversion of the N-acetylphosphinothricin have been fully answered for all pat gene-containing products."
Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, geneticist and organic physicist, Institute of Science in Society, UK ([email protected], tel: 44-(0)20-7272-5636): "Genetic engineering is inherently dangerous, because it greatly expands the scope for horizontal gene transfer and recombination, precisely the processes that create new viruses and bacteria that cause disease epidemics, and trigger cancer in cells."
Dr. Vyvyan Howard, medical toxi-pathologist, Liverpool University, UK (Tel: + 44 (0)151 794 5958; Fax: + 44 (0)151 794 5517; Mob: + 44 (0)151 794 7833): "What our regulators have is 'fact-free' risk assessment: there's little or no data, what relevant data that exist are simply ignored and dismissed, so they can conclude the risk is 'very, very low, effectively zero'. That's completely counter to the precautionary principle."
Dr. Brian John, geomorphologist and environmental scientist working with GM Free Cymru: "Those of us who have looked into the science of GM crops and foods from a community or consumer perspective have been appalled at the apparent abandonment of the precautionary principle and at the control exerted over the scientific agenda by the biotechnology multinationals."
Lim Li Ching, researcher, Institute of Science in Society and Third World Network: "Farmers around the world already have the knowledge, experience and innovative spirit that enable them to farm sustainably, through approaches such as agroecology, sustainable agriculture and organic farming. Learning from them means rethinking agriculture and associated policy making, and exploring how traditional knowledge and science can work together."
Dr. Eva Novotny, Scientists for Global Responsibility: "There is no evidence that unlike species have ever crossed during the billions of years that life has existed on earth. If Nature tried this experiment, it must have failed. We must not be so arrogant as to assume that we are more clever than Nature, lest we precipitate an irreversible chain of biological evolution that ends in catastrophe".
Dr. Arpad Pusztai, formerly of Rowett Institute, Scotland: "Many scientists and the lay public hungry for information have been struck by the scarcity of published data relevant to the safety of GM foods. Not only that, the scientific quality of what has been published is, in most instances, not up to the usually expected standards of good science."
David Quist, microbial ecologist, University of California, Berkeley, USA: ([email protected]): "Contamination has happened despite Mexico's regulations to protect maize genetic diversity within its centre of origin. There has been no research substantiating the safety of transgenic crops, especially in centres of genetic diversity, as is the case of maize in Mexico. This is risking the future of our food supply."
Dr. Peter Rosset, agricultural ecologist and Co-Director, Institute for Food and Development Policy, Oakland, California, USA http://www.foodfirst.org: "There is no pressing need for GM crops, as world agriculture is in overproduction, and people go hungry because of poverty, not because of lack of GM seeds, when they are too poor to buy from the plenty around them."
Dr. Veljko Veljkovic, AIDS virologist, Belgrade, Yugoslavia (Fax: +381 11 453 686 E-mail: [email protected]): "The problem with genetic engineering is that the development of techniques is much faster than development of knowledge. As a consequence, the experiments cannot be completely controlled, and their outcome could be unpredictable and sometimes dangerous. GMOs are definitely involved in horizontal gene transfer and, for this reason, represent permanent potential source of new pathogens that could be created accidentally or intentionally. This is so especially for GMOs used in gene therapy, vectored vaccines and edible vaccines."
The Munlochy GM Vigil has launched a new website:
It will be updated regularly, (at least weekly), with the latest news, campaigns from Scotland, the UK, Europe and around the World. We hope the new website is an effective tool to enable you to easily access information,keep up to date, and get involved in any parts of the overall campaign, at any time. These are very important times, with the fight being continued in the UK via the Public Debate, European legislation being introduced throughout the year, and opposition to GM crops and food widespread across the globe. Please take part as much as possible, and help protect our food, farming and environment.
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