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World renowned scientist lost his job when he warned about GE foods
Dr Arpad Pusztai evoked world wide media attention in August 1998, when he said in British TV that he would not eat genetically engineered food because of the insufficient testing procedures they have undergone.
Pusztai is a world renowned expert on food safety, who worked at UK’s leading food safety research lab, the Rowett institute. His statement obviously threatened to damage the then ongoing multimillion PR campaign of the Biotech industry to create public confidence in GE foods. A few days after his public appearance he was suspended and gagged by the research institute where he worked.
Pointed out weakness in present food regulations
Dr Pusztai’s pointed out that substances in Genetically Engineered (GE) foods that have a slow acting effect would not be detected because present regulations do not require long term safety testing. The regulations prescribe an approval procedure based on the principle of substantial equivalence. In practice this procedure allows very superficially tested foods to be approved. As an illustrative example, he mentioned fresh results from his research on certain pesticidal Lectins (Pusztai is recognized as a world leading expert on Lectins). Pusztai found that rats developed immune system defects and stunted growth after a time period corresponding to 10 years of human life.
Humiliating statements displayed about Pusztai
A few days after his appearance on TV and Radio, the Rowett intstitute suspended Pusztai. It was said that the GE potatoes were not intended to be used as food. It was maintained that the results reported by Dr Pusztai were misleading because he had mixed up the results of different studies. In that context it was pointed out that he was old (68), giving the impression of a senile and confused person. It was also said that the research had not been done on GE potatoes but on a mixture of natural potatoes and Lectin. It was indicated in a humiliating way that the quality of Dr Pusztai’s research was deficient. The formal reason for his suspension was that he had presented the results publicly before they had been reviewed by other scientists (peer review) as required by the Rowett Institute. At the same time as he was suspended, he was disallowed to speak with the media to defend himself (which would have revealed the misleading information from Rowett Institute).
A scientific committe was asked by the Rowett institute to review the study Pustai referred to. It said there were important deficiencies in the study.
Independent scientists confirmed the correctness of Pusztais conclusions
Pusztai then sent the research protocols to 24 independent scientists in different countries. These turned down the conclusions of the review committee and found that his research was of good quality and justified his conclusions. They found that Pusztai had not mixed up any results.
Scientists and physicians (including the undersigned), who had been in touch with Pusztai confirmed that he was perfectly clear-minded with no signs of confusion or memory defects.
“Breathtaking impertinence” by Royal society according to Lancet
Then a second review committe was appointed by the Royal Society in UK. It again concluded that Pusztai’s results were inconclusive yes even flawed.
A world leading scientific journal found the judgement of the Royal Society “a gesture of breathtaking impertinence” (Lancet, Editorial, May 22, p1769).
Pusztai has pointed out a number of obvious deficencies in this review report, see also the interview below and Dr Pusztai’s website, where he explains this in detail.
Harmful GE potatoes would have been approved
Recently Pusztai has also said that the lectin potatoes he had been studying were indeed intended for food although that was denied by the Rowett institute. That was the reason why he wanted to make the alarming results known. Had not Pusztai’s long term study revealed the danger, the GE lectin potatoes might very well have turned up on the market, as formally they were “substantially equivalent” with the natural variety, Pusztai said. This case demonstrates the serious insufficiency of the present regulations for food safety that don’t demand long term testing of GE foods, see Substantial equivalence versus scientific food safety assessment. This is the probable reason why great efforts were made to suppress the truth and to “kill” the messenger.