GMWatch News Review archive
WEEKLY WATCH number 32
from Claire Robinson, WEEKLY WATCH guest editor
Welcome to WW32 bringing you all the latest news in brief on the GM issue.
A week is a very long time in the GM debate: in the last few days we've seen sacked minister Michael Meacher again asking the kind of tough questions on GM in Parliament that have mysteriously eluded the opposition and most of the media for the past several years; and even Blair's advisors are struggling to come up with a good argument for growing biotech crops. It must have been hard to ignore a delegation of farmers from one of the major GM crop-growing countries, Canada, who flew to Britain to warn UK farmers not to go near the crops.
Don't miss a wonderful Article of the Week on Clinton and Blair's involvement in the Pusztai affair, based on Andy Rowell's brilliant new book Don't Worry, It's Safe to Eat.
Please circulate far and wide!
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK - India / Golden Rice / Food aid / Africa / Meacher / UK economic report / Superweeds / Monsanto sues / GM wheat
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
FACTS OF THE WEEK
TOPIC OF THE WEEK: The man who changed the GM debate
ARTICLE OF THE WEEK: Sinister sacking leads to Blair and White House
HEADLINES OF THE WEEK
CAMPAIGNS OF THE WEEK: GM Nation?/Day of Action to Free Jose Bove
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK
GOLDEN RICE NOT EVEN OFF THE STARTING BLOCKS
Attempts to start research into GM vitamin A 'Golden Rice' in India have still not got off the ground after three years. Seed supplied to the Institute that was to develop the rice has failed. Dr B. Mishra, Director of the Directorate of Rice Research, said, "the first lot of seeds which were given to the Institute were found to have problems, hence they were not utilised for research and burnt."
It's interesting that Ingo Potrykus, the inventor of Golden Rice, has for some time now been denouncing Greenpeace and others for causing untold death and suffering in the Third World by not supporting Golden Rice, when this untested technology hasn't even got off the starting blocks!
MONSANTO SUES DAIRY OVER LABELLING
Portland, Maine: Oakhurst Dairy Inc. is being sued by Monsanto, which alleges that Oakhurst's labelling its milk as not from cattle treated with GM growth hormones is misleading. Monsanto officials said Oakhurst's ads and labels are deceptive and disparage Monsanto's products with the inference that milk from untreated cows is better than milk from hormone-treated cows. Monsanto claims that "Numerous scientific and regulatory reviews throughout the world'" have declared its genetically engineered cattle drug (rBST) as safe. But in fact, the GM drug failed such reviews in both the EU and Canada, where it is banned.
'KINDLY TELL OUR AGONIES TO YOUR SCIENTISTS . . .'
By Katharine Ainger, New Statesman June 30, 2003
Slightly edited version of article at http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=1042
When you say you are trying to feed the poor, it can be embarrassing to have poor farmers turning up on your doorstep saying you are doing no such thing. In the summer of 1999, 30 farmers from Gujarat and the Punjab turned up at the Nuffield Foundation's office in Bloomsbury, London and demanded to see the director. They wanted to challenge a report claiming that the development of genetically modified crops was a 'moral imperative'. They were infuriated that Nuffield had consulted no farmers from the developing world. Eventually Anthony Tomei, the director, agreed to speak to them, though not before calling the police!
.Around the table sat the leaders of five of India's largest farmers' unions.. 'We understand,' began Manjit Kadran, an imposing man with a large turban, 'that you have issued a report insisting that there is a moral imperative to develop genetically modified foods to feed the world.' He leant forward, sternly.
'Perhaps you believe that India needs genetically engineered seeds, or there will be famine? I am from north-west India. India has a surplus of food, and we have a problem of storage, not of shortage. What we need are facilities and political will for the distribution of this food.'
The director said he hadn't written the report himself, and that they couldn't engage in debate then and there . . . 'This very bio-engineering,' interrupted a white-haired man in a dhoti. 'What about our ecological and cultural biodiversity? When you limit seed varieties to one or two? Now we have hundreds of varieties. If one fails, we have many others we can use. If we have only one and it fails, all fails.'
Hashmukh Patel added: 'Seventy per cent of Indians rely on agriculture . . . Our past experiences, for example with hybrid seeds, show they are useless after one or two or three crops, and require huge amounts of pesticides and fertilisers.
'Your report gets heard. But we don't have a voice that gets heard. This is why we came in a crowd. It is the only way to show our agony. No one hears us. We are frustrated. Kindly tell our agonies to your scientists.'
As we were getting up to leave, Patel added, with a smile: 'You paid a lot of expensive researchers and consultants for that report. But we have given you our good opinion for free.'
BUSH TOUTING GMOS ACROSS THE CONTINENT OF AFRICA
From a White House press release:
BUSH: The other part of the problem is the lack of technological development in agriculture. And we talked about the need for genetically-modified crops throughout the continent of Africa.
AFRICAN LEADERS CHALLENGE BUSH OVER "RUINOUS" TRADE PRACTICES
African leaders gave George Bush's tour of the continent a rocky start by blaming US trade practices for impoverishing millions of farmers across the continent. The US president was challenged over the huge subsidies to US cotton growers, a dispute which threatens to overshadow a trip intended to trumpet Washington's generosity to poor countries.
BENBROOK ON WHY GM FOOD AID MAY NOT BE SAFE
Excerpts from "GMOs, Pesticide Use, and Alternatives: Lessons from the U.S. Experience" Presented at the Conference on GMOs and Agriculture by Dr. Charles M. Benbrook, Paris, France, June 20, 2003
Full text and slides available from:
more excerpts here:
.when the companies advanced Bt corn through the regulatory process in the U.S. and Europe, it was known and understood that 98 percent plus of the corn would be fed to animals or processed. If regulatory authorities believed that a sizable share of the American consumers eating Bt corn would consume it directly and that, moreover, the corn might make up as much as half or two-thirds of daily caloric intake, they would NOT have approved it based on the data presented at the time. Anyone who claims that U.S. regulatory reviews of Bt corn technologies in the early 1990s "proves" safety in the context of food aid to Africa is either unaware of the nuances of risk assessment science or poorly informed of the scientific basis of U.S. regulatory reviews at that time.
.people in Africa who are suffering acute or chronic malnutrition, AIDs, and/or other health problems may react to consumption of Bt corn - especially when minimally cooked and processed, and present as a major share of their diet - in different ways than the average American or European has reacted to it. It is known that Bt corn may have adverse impacts on the stomach lining, and that potential food safety/allergenicity impacts are impacted in many ways by gut bacteria and the overall health of the gastro-intestinal tract. It is doubtful that any company or government institution has carried out the research needed to determine whether these differences could translate into risks in Africa among the very hungry that are both qualitatively and quantitatively distinct from those that might be expected in North America and Europe.
.AND BENBROOK ON WHY GM CROPS WON'T WORK IN AFRICA
For cash-poor farmers, the cost of genetically modified seed would be prohibitive. Moreover, genetically modified crops need near-perfect growing conditions. In dry areas, they require irrigation systems and the water to run them. They also need to be managed with special care. For example, crops are engineered to work with specific herbicides; the wrong herbicide can ruin an entire crop. In Africa, where pesticides are often misbranded, sold in unmarked containers or handled by people who cannot read, this can be a problem.
. The only way Africans can afford today's genetically modified seeds is for us to give the seeds or technology to them no strings attached, a highly unlikely scenario. Before contemplating this approach, though, Americans should know that their money and expertise might be better directed doing the things that Africans themselves might actually find useful.
MEACHER ASKS TOUGH QUESTIONS IN PARLIAMENT
"It's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in." - US president Lyndon B Johnson on FBI director J Edgar Hoover
Tony Blair must be asking himself whether former environment minister Michael Meacher was a 'safer pair of hands' when he was still in office, since now he's been sacked, he just won't stop asking awkward questions about GM foods.
In the House of Commons, Meacher pointed out that it would be legal to ban GM crops in Britain under:
* EU directive 2001/18 which, under article 16, allows for GM crops or a particular GM variety to be banned if it can be demonstrated that they would cause harm, either to the environment or to human health.
* article 5 of the phytosanitary agreement, whereby the Government can invoke the precautionary principle if the information needed to reach a sound scientific decision, based on the complete range of relevant scientific data, is not yet available."
Meacher asked of his replacement enviro minister Elliot Morley, "Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government are looking seriously at that option?"
Meacher went on to explain what data was still missing:
* the UK farm scale trials of GM crops fail to address volunteer superweeds, gene stacking, effects on birds, and extra herbicide use by farmers who are trying to maximise yield.
* human health trials have not been done and that assumption of safety under the doctrine of 'substantial equivalance' "has no scientific underpinning whatever". Meacher said that food derived illnesses are believed by the US centres for disease control to have doubled during the past seven years. In the US, GM Starlink maize caused allergic reactions in people and the York nutritional laboratory in the UK reported that since the introduction of GM soy into the UK, soy allergies had increased by 50%. And the Newcastle feeding study had shown that GM DNA is taken up by gut bacteria.
Meacher cited a Royal Society report which said "that any baby food containing GM products could lead to a dramatic rise in allergies, and unexpected shifts in oestrogen levels in GM soya-based infant feed might affect sexual development in children."
He asked also how the organic sector would be protected if GM were commercialised here: ".the organic oilseed rape canola industry has been wiped out in Canada within only a few years as a result of cross-contamination from GM. Again, how do the Government propose to stop the same thing happening here?
Read the full transcript, in which Meacher summarises much of the evidence against GM, and new minister Morley's inadequate and largely meaningless responses, at
EVEN BLAIR'S OWN ADVISORS SAY GM CROPS A WASTE OF TIME
A report commissioned by the UK government says there is no economic argument to support commercial growing of GM crops in Britain. The report also says that there is no case for investing in GM crops to ensure Britain has a lead in the development of GM pharmaceuticals - for example, plants modified to produce antibiotics. It even argues that there could be a "strong role for the UK to play" in providing non-GM foods". The report came as the president of Canada's National Farmers Union arrived in Britain to warn British farmers that GM crops, in Canada and elsewhere, have failed to live up to their promises of increased yields and reduced costs.
Stewart Wells said: "UK farmers should not be fooled."
Lyle Wright, a Canadian NFU member, said: "The promises come first and only later come the realities of contamination and genetic pollution, higher seed costs, market loss and superweeds."
The report argues that data from elsewhere on benefits of GM is mixed and may not apply to the UK. The potential that GM crops and foods could bring unexpected harmful impacts to human health and the environment is another factor.
Comments on the report:
Dr Sue Mayer, GeneWatch UK, "Even the Prime Minister's closest advisors haven't been able to come up with a convincing economic case for GM crops in Britain."
Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, "Although the Government spin on the report suggests that there will be GM jam tomorrow - in the form of long term economic benefits - the report actually says that the potential long term benefit "needs to be balanced against the possibility that new GM crops could introduce new risks". In this report, the Government, for the first time, has acknowledged the scale of uncertainty connected with GM technology. At stake is the future direction of agriculture, public and environmental health, and consumer choice."
Strategy Unit (SU) press release on the report
Download the report, exec summary, etc. here:
SUPERWEEDS WILL FOLLOW GM CROPS, SAY GOVERNMENT ADVISORS
Scientific evidence shows that GM oilseed rape is expected to cross with five wild British plants, probably creating "superweeds" which are resistant to herbicides. Government GM science advisers, the advisory committee on releases to the environment (Acre), have identified five wild plant species found in the UK for which there is scientific evidence that hybrids could be formed with oilseed rape. The list was confirmed by the European environment agency which concluded that "the risk of hybridisation is high". These are wild turnip, hoary mustard, wild radish, brown mustard, and wild cabbage.
Download map showing likely pattern of contamination:
CODEX ADOPTS GUIDELINES ON GM FOOD SAFETY
The UN advisory body on food safety, Codex Alimentarius Commission, has adopted an agreement on how to assess the risks to consumers from GM foods. The guidelines lay out principles intended to make the analysis and management of risks related to GM foods uniform across Codex's 169 member countries. Provisions of the guidelines include pre-market safety evaluations, product tracing for recall purpose and post-market monitoring. They include provisions for determining if the product may provoke unexpected allergies in consumers.
Current US regulatory practice does not meet these standards.
GM WHEAT IS THREAT, SAYS NEW CANADIAN STUDY
GM wheat poses an unacceptable risk to the environment, says a University of Manitoba study. "Under current conditions the release of Roundup Ready wheat in Western Canada would be environmentally unsafe," concludes the report. The study was commissioned by the Canadian Wheat Board, which doesn't want to see GM grain released for sale. It fears it will damage Canada's ability to sell into export markets where GM crops are shunned.
"The study shows that this product, if granted unconfined release, will cause environmental problems for all farmers, not just those who choose to grow it," said wheat board chairman Ken Ritter.
The National Farmers Union of Canada has come up with another reason to resist the introduction of GM Roundup Ready wheat - fusarium, which causes blight. Appearing before the House of Commons agriculture committee recently, NFU president Stewart Wells said studies linking glyphosate-based herbicides and fusarium are cause for serious concern. Laboratory research by microbiologist Keith Hanson and plant pathologist Myriam Fernandez has shown that applying glyphosate-based herbicides usually stimulates the growth of fusarium pathogens that cause fusarium head blight. "The biggest thing overall that we've found is that there is a relationship here, mostly causing significant increases in vegetative fungal growth of these plant pathogens," Hanson said.
CONFERENCE PUSHES BIOTECH ACCEPTANCE BY THIRD WORLD
At the US-organised Ministerial Conference and Exposition on Agricultural Science and Technology, held June 22-25 in Sacramento, California, where top-level agriculture policy-makers gathered from 120 countries, organic and sustainable agriculture took a back seat to a promotional blitz for GM food and crops.
German Ag Minister Renate Künast, the only scheduled panelist from Western Europe, pulled out of the conference amid speculation that she did not endorse the organizers' pro-biotech approach.
The organizers, including two keynote speakers, National Science Foundation Director Dr. Rita Colwell and Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Norman Borlaug, repeatedly and enthusiastically promoted the promise of biotech. USDA Deputy Commissioner Lester M. Crawford pointedly said: "As for the regulatory system of most countries: The dog may bark but the caravan goes on."
MORE ON SACRAMENTO FROM SCHNEWS
.The conference was closed to the public and surrounded by robocops with helicopters and a tank. Luckily some 'killer tomatoes' and a few thousand other protestors including farmers gathered to vent their disapproval that all was not well in their cosy world of corporate gene-fiddling. . Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farmworkers Union told a rally "This isn't about feeding people throughout the world. It's about Monsanto or other large corporations making profits from selling GE food. If they really wanted to feed us, they would feed us healthy food. In fact, a lot of food is thrown away in the U.S. because it's considered surplus."
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
"In 1988, US policy makers conceded that there was no way to be entirely certain of the safety of GM food. If the 'public wants progress, they will have to be guinea pigs,' said one."
- Andy Rowell in Don't Worry, It's Safe to Eat, reviewed at http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=1043
"I think the industry now recognise that hopelessness is their best hope. They have manifestly failed to convince the public of either the desirability or safety of GM products. Having failed to convince, having failed to co-opt or to buy the public support, they are left with coercion. Coercion comes in two forms. One is putting an arm lock over the farmers and the other is putting a choice lock on consumers." - Alan Simpson MP, quoted in Andy Rowell's book, Don't Worry, It's Safe to Eat, reviewed at http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=1043
"There have been no tests. That is an enormous gap and I think a scandalous omission in making the decision about whether or not these are safe to eat."
- Former UK environment minister Michael Meacher, quoted in "Meacher voices further GM fears", Farmers Weekly Interactive, 7 Jul 2003
"Would you use a condom with 49 holes in it?"
- Founder of MAdGE [Mothers Against Genetic Engineering] Alannah Currie on the New Zealand government's intention to lift the moratorium on GE despite the recent publication of a report commissioned by the government on environmental regulator ERMA, which showed it to be severely lacking in 49 critical areas. The independent ERMA Review Report criticized the apparent favouritism extended by ERMA to the scientific evidence put forward by biotech companies in cases involving GE.
"It is not shortage of food that is the problem, but distribution. More GM food is not the point: the point is improving access and local food security. But corporations do not profit from such solutions."
- Tewolde Berhan Gebre-Egziabher, general manager of the Environmental Protection Authority of Ethiopia, a country in which 11 million people currently face food shortages, quoted in Katharine Ainger, "Is George Bush the new Bob Geldof? The president of the US says he wants to feed the world. The only thing stopping him is Europe's attitude to bio-crops", New Statesman, June 30, 2003
Jim Thomas writes to Science Review Panelist, Prof Chris Leaver:
Dear Professor Leaver,
I attended the GM Nation? discussion in Oxfordshire County Hall last night and was surprised to hear you at the beginning of your presentation tell the audience that you were paid by their taxes and not by the GM companies - a point you laid particular stress on. However, your declaration of interests on the GM science review website lists at least 2 paid consultancies with GM companies: Rhone Poulenc (1993-1998) and Syngenta (1998-2002). see
Can you explain to me how this 9 years of paid consultancy does not amount to being paid by GM companies?
Programme Manager - ETC Group.
(see also: Science review panel struggles to reach agreement on GM risks
FACTS OF THE WEEK
* In the UK, some 750 million broiler chickens are reared a year - 98 per cent of them intensively. Their last week is spent on the size of an A4 piece of paper. A quarter of the 32 million laying poultry suffer bone fractures. A recent survey found that 20 per cent of chicken meat tested and 10 per cent of eggs contained residues of drugs 'deemed too dangerous for use in human medicine'. The stress put on dairy cows has been likened to a 'man jogging for 6-8 hours per day, every day'.
* Supermarket vegetables are 78 per cent more expensive than the organic vegetable box from Riverford in Devon. Over the past two years the difference in price between supermarket and box scheme vegetables had increased by 39 per cent.
Taken from Andy Rowell's book, Don't Worry, It's Safe to Eat: The true story of GM food, BSE and foot and mouth, reviewed at http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=1043
TOPIC OF THE WEEK: The man who changed the GM debate
On Friday February 12, 1999 the GM debate in the UK changed forever when the Pusztai affair exploded back into the limelight.
The explosion was triggered by three journalists: Michael Sean Gillard, Laurie Flynn and Andy Rowell. Their Guardian pieces, 'Food Scandal Exposed' and 'Ousted Scientist and the Damning Research Into Food Safety', provided evidence that the public had been fed a pack of lies about Pusztai and his research by people in the scientific and political establishment desperate to prevent GM foods going into meltdown.
As well as playing the lead role in unearthing the real story of Pusztai's treatment and research, Rowell was also an unacknowledged contributor to a story that made the front page of The Guardian nine months later, which exposed how a leading Fellow of the Royal Society had threatened the editor of The Lancet with the loss of his job in a desperate effort to try and prevent the peer-reviewed publication of Pusztai's research.
Since then Rowell has played a key role in exposing the campaign of intimidation and vilification waged against Ignacio Chapela, as well as in disclosing the real forces behind a series of lobby groups that have impinged on the GM debate, such as the Scientific Alliance, Sense About Science, and the Institute of Ideas.
Rowell has just published a new book, Don't Worry, It's Safe to Eat, which has triggered a major article in the Daily Mail (reproduced in full below) presenting evidence for the highest levels of political involvement in the 'killing' of Arpad Pusztai's research.
You can find out more about how to obtain a copy of the book here:
The publisher (Earthscan) has a 10% discount on all its agriculture titles at the moment, so order this one while stocks last!
GMWATCH's REVIEW of Don't Worry, It's Safe to Eat: The true Story of GM Food, BSE and foot and mouth is at
ARTICLE OF THE WEEK
Sinister sacking and the trail that leads to Blair and the White House
by Andrew Rowell, Daily Mail, July 7 2003
EARLY one fine summer morning, a taxi pulled up outside a neat suburban terrace house in Aberdeen and took a 68-year-old scientist to a TV studio.
Shortly afterwards Dr Arpad Pustzai found himself propelled from a life of grateful obscurity into the centre of an astonishing political maelstrom that would cost him his job, his reputation and his health.
His crime was to question the safety of genetically modified food. His interview on ITV's World In Action lasted just 150 seconds, but that was long enough to reveal his ground-breaking research suggesting rats fed genetically modified potatoes suffered stunted growth and damage to their immune systems.
It triggered a controversy that put him on a collision course with the Government, the biotech industry and the scientific establishment. The diminutive Hungarian-born scientist, who had escaped the terrors of Stalinism to enjoy a brilliant 35-year academic career, became a reviled figure: ostracised by colleagues, villified, and gagged.
Now, five years on, there are disturbing claims that this distinguished scientist was the victim of behind-the-scenes manoeuvring at the highest political level.
Some of the allegations are truly explosive. They raise profound questions about the extraordinary network of relationships between senior Labour figures and the biotech companies. They also throw new light on why the multi-billion-pound GM industry continues to press ahead in the face of huge public opposition.
The World In Action documentary was broadcast on Monday, August 10, 1998. It was a little over a year since Tony Blair had swept into Downing Street. His government was in thrall to the biotech industry, convinced it could become a driving force of the British economy. What Dr Pusztai was saying threatened to derail those ambitions.
He was based at the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen, which conducts research into animal nutrition. He had published more than 270 scientific studies and three books on lectins, plant proteins that are central to the GM controversy. He was the world's leading expert on the subject.
In the TV interview, he said he believed GM food could be made safe, but added: 'If I had the choice I would certainly not eat it.
He demanded tighter rules over GM foods, and warned: 'I find it's very unfair to use our fellow citizens as guinea pigs. We have to find guinea pigs in the laboratory.'
On the evening the programme went out, the Rowett Institute's director Professor Philip James congratulated Dr Pusztai on his appearance, commenting how well he had handled the questions.
The following morning a press release from the Institute gave him further support, stressing that a 'range of carefully controlled studies underlie the basis of Dr Pusztai's concerns'.
Yet within 48 hours, everything had changed. Dr Pusztai had been suspended by the Institute and ordered to hand over all his data.
His research team was dispersed and he was threatened with legal action if he spoke to anyone. His phone calls and e-mails were diverted; his personal assistant was banned from speaking to him. He read in a press release issued by the Institute that his contract would not be renewed.
What triggered such an extraordinary about-face? How did a respected scientist become a pariah overnight?
The results he claimed to have found were certainly worrying. Dr Pusztai maintained that when rats were fed a certain kind of GM potato - adapted to produce natural insecticide - their livers, hearts and other organs got smaller.
He also found that the size of their brains was affected, but did not dare publicise this fact because he was thought to be alarmist.
Clearly, such findings were deeply threatening for the GM industry. In Orwellian fashion, the Rowett Institute gave a number of conflicting reasons for suddenly disowning them.
First, it claimed Dr Pusztai had simply got confused, muddling up the results for two different batches of potatoes. According to this explanation, the worrying results came from a 'control' sample of potatoes containing a substance known to be poisonous.
This was an utterly astonishing claim - a basic error worthy of a bumbling schoolboy. Newspapers rightly described it as one of the most embarrassing blunders ever admitted by a major scientific institution.
The trouble was, it wasn't true. Whatever the merits of his results, Dr Pusztai hadn't mixed them up, as a subsequent audit of his work confirmed. One of his colleagues, leading pathologist Stanley Ewen said: 'Arpad has always had a clear vision. He is certainly never muddled. He was on top of the whole business.'
When it became clear the claim was baseless, the Institute shifted its ground. First, it said that Dr Pusztai had not carried out the long-term tests needed to prove his findings. Then it said he had carried out the tests but the results weren't ready.
Again, this simply wasn't so.
Later, when his reputation was in tatters and his research thoroughly discredited, the Institute accepted that Dr Pusztai had acted in good faith and described him as 'an intense investigative scientist with an international reputation'.
But by then he was a ruined man who had suffered two heart attacks. His wife, who was sacked with him, was on permanent medication for high blood pressure. Dr Pusztai has come to believe there is only one plausible explanation for his downfall - political pressure from a government in fear of his findings.
Breaking his long silence over the affair, he now claims that he was fired as a direct consequence of Tony Blair's intervention. The day after his World In Action broadcast, he believes that two phone calls were put through to his boss, Philip James, from the Prime Minister's office in Downing Street.
The following day he was fired. He says he was informed of the calls by two different employees at the Rowett. Dr Putsztai and his wife were also told by a senior manager at the institute that Blair's intervention followed a phone call to Downing Street from President Bill Clinton, whose administration was spending billions backing the GM food industry. To sceptical ears, this sounds scarcely credible. Would the Prime Minister really have had any influence over the position of a respected scientist?
And yet the story is supported by two other eminent researchers. Stanley Ewen, says another senior figure at the institute told him the same story at a dinner on September 24, 1999.
'That conversation is sealed in my mind,' Ewen says. 'My jaw dropped to the floor. I suddenly saw it all - it was the missing link.
'Until then, I couldn't understand how on Monday Arpad had made the most wonderful breakthrough, and on Tuesday it was the most dreadful piece of work and immediately rejected out of hand.'
The second source to confirm the story is Professor Robert Orskov OBE, who worked at the Rowett for 33 years and is one of Britain's leading nutrition experts. He was told that phone calls went from Monsanto, the American firm which produces 90% of the world's GM food, to Clinton and then to Blair.
'Clinton rang Blair and Blair rang James,' says Professor Orskov.
'There is no doubt he was pushed by Blair to do something. It was damaging the relationship between the USA and the UK, because it was going to be a huge blow for Monsanto.'
It is no secret that Blair was first persuaded to support GM by Clinton, and that the President exerted great pressure on his European allies to promote the new technology.
But would Professor James, who had run the Rowett Institute since 1982 and was one of the world's most respected nutritionists, have sacrificed his own man?
At the time, he undoubtedly enjoyed good relations with Tony Blair. While Labour was in opposition, he had been chosen to set up the blueprint for a new Food Standards Agency.
The storm over Dr Pusztai's findings was to cost him a job as the agency's first head. 'You destroyed me,' he later told Dr Pusztai.
Professor James vehemently denies acting on orders from the Premier, saying: 'There's no way I talked to anybody in any circumstances. It's a pack of lies. I have never talked to Blair since the opening of Parliament in 1997.'
Downing Street is equally dismissive of the claims. "This is total rubbish," said a spoesman. Dr Pusztai, however, remains convinced he was punished for following his conscience. 'I obviously spoke out at a very sensitive time. Things were coming to a head with the GM debate and I just lit the fuse.
'I grew up under the Nazis and the Communists and I understand that people are frightened and not willing to jeopardise their future, but they just sold me down the river.'
Among the most instructive aspects of the affair is the way ministers leapt on criticism of his work and sought to undermine his reputation.
In May 1999, by what seems an impossibly neat coincidence, reports attacking him were published on the very same day by the Royal Society - the voice of the scientific establishment - and the science and technology select committee of the House of Commons.
Jack Cunningham, the Government's so-called Cabinet Enforcer, then poured scorn on Dr Pusztai's 'wholly misleading results' and to promise that all GM food on sale in Britain was safe to eat.
It smacked of a co-ordinated counter-attack, and that is precisely what it was. A Government memo reveals that Cunningham and other senior ministers had set up a 'Biotechnology Presentation Group'
Then, as now, relationships between senior Labour figures and the GM food companies bordered on the incestuous. In Labour's first two years in office, GM companies met government officials and ministers 81 times.
The Blair government sees the biotech industry as a new scientific frontier, an industry worth GBP75 billion in Europe alone by 2005. Science minister Lord Sainsbury is a dedicated GM supporter, though he does not officially deal with GM food matters. On being appointed to his post, Lord Sainsbury held large share holdings in two biotech companies, Diatech and Innotech; subsequently they were put in a blind trust. He is also New Labour's largest single donor, having given the party more than GBP8 million since it first came into power.
The irony of Sainsbury being in charge of a pro-GM science policy was highlighted when it emerged he had made a GBP20m paper profit in just four years through his investment in Innotech.
There are links too between Labour and the biotech industry's spin-doctors. Monsanto's PR company in the UK is Good Relations, whose director David Hill ran Labour's media operations for the 1997 and 2001 general elections.
In such an environment, it is scarcely surprising if dissidents like Dr Pusztai find themselves pushed to the fringes and turned into scapegoats.
The oddest twist of all came in May 1999, when Dr Pusztai and his wife went abroad for a few days to escape the controversy surrounding them.
On their return they discovered there had been a break-in at their house in Aberdeen. The only things taken were some bottles of malt whisky, a bit of foreign currency - and the bags containing all their research data.
This was followed by another break-in at the Rowett Institute at the end of the year. Only Dr Pusztai's old lab that was broken into.
He remains baffled about who was behind the raids, and why he was targeted.
But he continues to defend his controversial findings.
'They picked the wrong guy,' he says simply. 'I will kick the bucket before I give up.'
Don't Worry, It's Safe to Eat by Andrew Rowell is published by Earthscan on July 10 2003 (£16.99).
HEADLINES OF THE WEEK: from the archive
7/7/2003 'Would you use a condom with 49 holes in it?' - Madge
7/7/2003 BOOK REVIEW: Don't Worry, It's Safe to Eat
7/7/2003 Is George Bush the new Bob Geldof?
7/7/2003 The sinister sacking of the world's leading GM expert
8/7/2003 African leaders to challenge Bush
8/7/2003 Benbrook on Food Aid, Food Safety, WTO, and RR weeds
8/7/2003 Meacher voices further GM fears
8/7/2003 Towards Cancun WTO Ministerial: Abandoning Agriculture
9/7/2003 Chapela inspiring in Norfolk - report on the debate
9/7/2003 Meacher raises more questions in parliament
9/7/2003 Monsanto sues over labelling of GE cattle drug treated milk
9/7/2003 UK govt study may play down GMO crop benefits
10/7/2003 Bove/Bush/saboteur returns/contaminated seed/Codex
10/7/2003 GM crops a waste of time, No 10 study will tell Blair
10/7/2003 New superweeds fear from GM crops
10/7/2003 Study - GM wheat threat/glyphosate-fusarium link - scientists
11/7/2003 Blair's Strategy Unit Report on GM crops and responses
11/7/2003 Golden Rice project setback/Targeting GMOs at the poor
11/7/2003 Sowing seeds of destruction
FOR THE COMPLETE ARCHIVE: http://www.gmwatch.org/archive.asp
CAMPAIGNS OF THE WEEK: FINAL PUSH
GM Nation? The public debate ends a week to-day, Friday 18th July - so if you haven't participated and contributed your views - and encouraged friends and family to do so also - then please act now! And if you already have - thanks and well done.
The website is http://www.gmnation.org
The telephone number for people to get hold of hard copies if they don't have access to the web is 0207 261 8616.
Day of Action to Free Jose Bove
Act Now -- on July 15, the the day after Bastille Day!
Food First (http://www.foodfirst.org) and the National Family Farm
Coalition (http://www.nffc.net/) urge you to join in a Day of Action for the immediate release of French farmer leader Jose Bove.
Celebrate the day after Bastille Day on July 15th by organizing a protest at your local French embassy or consulate.
Protest the Day after Bastille Day at 12:00 noon, outside your local French embassy or consulate and/or write or call your local French Ambassador/ Consul
What else can I do?
Do you want to write a letter to him? Jose Bove seems to be in good spirits but is nevertheless going through difficult times and he could always use some words of encouragement. We would greatly appreciate it if you take the time to write to him in his jail.
His personal address is :
No decrou 22377 Y
Bloc A 07
We remind you that he can only receive letters (no books, and no packages can enter into the prison).
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