Dr Roger Morton <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. recently posted on the AgBioView list a wide ranging and detailed critique of a document called 'GM myths'.


We reproduce below the whole of Morton's comments as they relate to the work of Dr Arpad Pusztai and to the related issue of the number of articles published relative to GM food safety which have actually been peer-reviewed.

Beneath Morton's comments is a detailed response from Dr Pusztai which concludes, "All in all, if this is the best that an enthusiastic proponent of GM foods can come up with in support of their safety we are really in trouble."

Morton's bibliography with introductory comments is reproduced as the last item.

from 'Response to GM myths'/Dr Roger Morton to AgBioView - 12/12/00:

“One of the few published reports with experimental data tells of GM potatoes, modified to contain a lectin, which were found to have toxic effects on rats' organs, including the brain and the immune system.  Similar tests on rats using non-modified potatoes turned up no such results.”

These potatoes were not in the process of being commercialized and have not been continued with. All this data shows is that testing GM foods works. You can spot possible problems using animal tests.

What the activists won't tell you is that Dr Puztai has other publications which conclude: Pusztai A, Grant G, Bardócz S, Alonso R, Chrispeels MJ, Schroeder HE, Tabe LM, Higgins TJV (1999) Expression of insecticidal bean a-amylase inhibitor transgene has minimal detrimental effect on the nutritional value of peas in the rat at 30% of the diet.  J Nutr 129:1597-1603

The effect of expression of bean alpha-amylase inhibitor (alpha-AI) transgene on the nutritional value of peas has been evaluated by pair- feeding rats diets containing transgenic or parent peas at 300 and 650 g/kg, respectively, and at 150 g protein/kg diet, supplemented with essential amino acids to target requirements. The results were also compared with the effects of diets containing lactalbumin with or without 0.9 or 2.0 mg bean alpha-AI, levels equivalent to those in transgenic pea diets. When 300 and 650 g peas/kg diet were fed, the daily intake of alpha-AI was 11.5 or 26.3 mg alpha-AI, respectively.

At the 300 g/kg level, the nutritional value of the transgenic and parent line peas was not significantly different. The weight gain and tissue weights of rats fed either of the two pea diets were not significantly different from each other or from those of rats given the lactalbumin diet even when this was supplemented with 0.9 g alpha-AI/kg. The digestibilities of protein and dry matter of the pea diets were slightly but significantly lower than those of the lactalbumin diet, probably due to the presence of naturally occurring antinutrients in peas. The differences between transgenic and parent pea lines were small, possibly because neither the purified recombinant alpha-AI nor that in transgenic peas inhibited starch digestion in the rat small intestine in vivo to the same extent as did bean alpha-AI.

 **Thus, this short-term study indicated that transgenic peas expressing bean alpha-AI gene could be used in rat diets at 300 g/kg level without major harmful effects on their growth, metabolism and health, raising the possibility that transgenic peas may also be used at this level in the diet of farm animals.**

“The researcher, Dr Arpad Pusztai, lost his job after he mentioned the experiment during a television interview. His critics claim his work  was never peer-reviewed -- yet the survey reported in Science also  found that none of the articles published by biotechnology companies  were  peer-reviewed either.”

This is a not true. Look at the bibliography above and you will see the vast majority of the publications mentioned are full peer-reviewed publications in journals. Some reports submitted to FDA, EPA etc are not peer reviewed by journal editors but you can be sure they are peer reviewed by the people at FDA and EPA. Might I also point out that a letter to Science is not peer reviewed and it is quite possible that the author of the letter quoted here is completely wrong. The bibliography above shows that he is infarct wrong.

From Dr Arpad Pusztai:

Dear Jonathan,

Obviously Dr Morton regards himself an authority on everything concerning GM crops and food.  Unfortunately, I have no recollections of major contributions by him to nutrition but perhaps he may enlighten me on his track record one day.  Meanwhile, I shall limit myself only to dealing with the part of his long contribution that I have some competence in.

First, let us get this GM pea study out of the way.  I am very grateful that somebody has eventually discovered this paper of ours in Journal of Nutrition.  I was beginning to think that although we have done this work at the request of his fellow Australian scientists such as T.J. Higgins, they and everybody else may have forgotten about this paper.  I am very grateful to Morton to bring it to people's attention.  He even took the trouble to give the abstract of the paper (though leaving some bits out), although he was somewhat coy about the authors and not mentioned that three of them were Australians.  Perhaps, it would have been embarrassing for them to be associated with a "disgraced scientist" such as myself.  Just as a matter of  completeness I want to make three comments about this paper of relatively early work from our laboratory of which, as a matter of record, I am quite proud of:

1.  This was a straightforward nutritional study without any histology or immunology.  As such this was published in The Journal of Nutrition (USA), one of the top nutritional journals of the world.  Not bad, is it?  By the way, had we been allowed to continue with our research at the next stage we would have extended these nutritional studies to include gut histology (the main target tissue of any food) and measurements on gut and humoral immune responsiveness.  A very important point to make here is that the design of the GM pea study was exactly the same as that of our GM potato work which according to the Royal Society was flawed in design, execution etc.  Perhaps what may have had something to do with the difference in the proper appreciation of our work by the two bodies was that the peer-review of our paper at the Journal of Nutrition was done by proper nutritional experts while none of the six members of  the RS Working Group had firsthand experience in nutrition.

2.  Any proper nutritionist or gastroenterologist reading our GM pea paper would have picked out one of the main glaring reasons for the similarity in the nutritional value of conventional and GM peas included in the rat diet at 30% (but not at 65% inclusion level).  We have shown and described in the paper that because the product of the alpha-amylase inhibitor gene transferred from kidney bean (one of the main and stable antinutrients in beans), became unstable in the gastrointestinal tract and rapidly broke down, the main reason for the difference between the GM and non-GM peas disappeared.   This shows the importance of case-by-case animal testing because, as it so happened, in this case the experiments showed that in exceptional cases one hits the jackpot even with some GM crops.  Quite in contrast, GNA (the snowdrop bulb lectin) in GM potatoes did not break down in the gut which shows that the gene product MUST be isolated from the GM plant (and not as an E. coli recombinant) and this must be tested in vivo and not in  spurious in vitro simulated assays.  Moreover, there is a general message here too: the scientist must report his findings as he finds them and not what he/she thinks that he/she ought to have found.  We reported the problems with our GM potatoes because there were problems with them and not for ideological reasons and the same happened with our findings with GM peas; we reported our results as they were found.

3.  Finally, I want to quote the last two sentences from our paper without any further comment that somehow escaped Morton's attention: "However, this nutritional study with transgenic peas expressing alpha-amylase inhibitor cannot at this stage be taken as proof that transgenic peas are fit for human consumption.  This may be established only with the use of further and more specific risk assessment testing procedures, which must be designed and developed with human consumers in mind".

There is one more comment that relates to our GM potato work.  Morton says that these potatoes were not in the process of commercialization and have not been continued with.  I am afraid, he is wrong.  The potatoes which we used as a model of GM food in our studies had been developed by an English biotech company, Cambridge Agricultural Genetics, later called Axis Genetics.  They had been field-grown at Rothamstead and were very much to be commercialized.  In fact, the Rowett and Axis Genetics had already drawn up a profit-sharing agreement for this commercialization.  True, this was not continued with.  Perhaps the main reason for this was our work.  Incidentally, the company has since gone bankrupt and, according to people in the know, the GNA patent has been bought up by Novartis.

The second thing I am going to comment on (again because of my particular expertise in this field) is the very "impressive" list of references in support of Morton's claim that GM "food has been tested and it is a lie to suggest it has not".  Just look at the biography! Morton further claimed that the recent article in Science by Domingo is IN FACT WRONG.  This Spanish scientist could only find 7 papers on GM food in peer-reviewed literature after going through practically all the scientific data bases in a computer-aided search and therefore he at the end commented that there were "many opinions but few data".  However, Morton did not give his opinion why this scientist was wrong, whether he was incompetent or just lied.  Rather interestingly, Domingo never said that GM was good, bad or indifferent, he just pleaded with the companies and scientists to publish their papers on this so important topic in peer-reviewed journals.

Coming to Morton's list of 56 papers referred to in his bibliography I very much hope that his science is better and more precise than his list.  This is the breakdown of peer-reviewed articles:

1.  Nutritional studies:  2 papers.  Nos. 2 and 10 in his list. However, paper no. 10 must be so good that he quotes it three times, in his list: nos. 10, 19 and 33.

2.  Toxicology: 1 paper;  again it must be good because it is quoted twice: nos. 18 and 34.  Incidentally, as in the paper they tested an  E. coli recombinant form of the gene product, the results cannot be accepted for the lack of toxicity for the gene product as expressed in the GM crop.

3.  Allergenicity: 1 paper; no. 22 in his list

4.  Compositional studies, not strictly relevant to nutritional studies but at least they were peer-reviewed:  6 papers; nos. 11, 15,  16, 17, 29 and 39.  Again Morton must have regarded the Monsanto study very highly because he referred to it three times:  nos. 11, 20 and 43.

This makes a total of FOUR  PEER-REVIEWED animal study papers.  It is somewhat different from the 56 claimed.  Even when one considers the 6 not truly relevant compositional papers the grand total comes to 10.  I am afraid, if Morton is a true scientist he should know that other 46 so-called papers making up the rest and the bulk of his "bibliography" would not be considered by anyone as proper peer-reviewed scientific papers.  I am afraid, Morton should have consulted Domingo's Science paper more thoroughly because he, rather interestingly, [has] not referred to some of the papers in Domingo's bibliography.  One has the suspicion that the ones which were omitted might not have been supportive of his claim, i.e. that GM foods are safe.  Also, funnily, Morton referred to the Royal Society Report on our GM potato work (no. 52) but somehow our paper in the Lancet was left out of the list.  Clearly, he is following the example of the Royal Society's conduct (what was called by the Lancet editor as "breathtaking impertinence") that one criticizes and condemns data not to his liking but not disclosing to anyone else these data or work.

All in all, if this is the best that an enthusiastic proponent of GM foods can come up with in support of their safety we are really in trouble.

Best regards
Arpad Pusztai

PS.  I have no objections to your putting this on your circulation list.  The more people know the objective truth about this lamentable affair of GM publications the better it is.  Hopefully, soon there will be a proper scientific review of this whole field of health effects of GM food but till then this will have to do.

from 'Response to GM myths'/Dr Roger Morton to AgBioView - 12/12/00:

 Below is a bibliography of 56 publications regarding the safety of GM food crops. The vast majority of them do have experimental data to back up their claims. The activists dismiss this list with a wave of the hand and say that none of this research can be trusted because it has been done by company scientists or scientists funded by companies. Well this is a serious accusation. The Calvinists are essentially accusing hundreds of scientists of fraud. Many of the studies below are done at independent labs with funds provided by the companies. But how else do you expect to fund such research? Should the tax payer pay to test the safety of this food so that the companies can make a profit from them. No. The company must pay for it and it must be done right. A company will not market a crop if their testing found it to be dangerous - the lawsuits would cripple them.

 This food has been tested and it is a lie to suggest it has not. If the activists wish to say that the food has been tested but there has been a massive cover up of the negative results they can try and make this claim. But they don't say this. They say it has not been tested which is a lie as you can see by looking at this bibliography.

 1. Aulrich, K., I. Halle and G. Flachowsky. 1998. Inhaltsstoffe und  Verdaulichkeit von MaiskF6rnen der Sorte Cesar und der gentechnisch  verE4nderten Bt-hybride bei Legenhennen. Proc Einfluss von Erzeugung und  Verarbeitung auf die QualitE4t laudwirtschaftlicher Produkte. 465-468.

2. Brake, J. and D. Vlachos. 1998. Evaluation of event 176 "Bt" corn in  broiler chickens. J. Poultry Sci. 77:648-653.

3. Daenicke, R., D. Gadeken and K. Aulrich. 1999. Einsatz von Silomais  herkF6mmlicher Sorten und der gentechnisch verE4nderten Bt Hybriden in der  Rinderfhtterung - Mastrinder -. 12, Maiskolloquium. 40-42.

4. Faust, M. 1998. Determining feeding related characteristics for Bt corn.  1998 Dairy Report. Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

5. Faust, M. and L. Miller. 1997. Study finds no Bt in milk. IC-478. Fall  Special Livestock Edition. pp 6-7. Iowa State University Extension, Ames,  Iowa.   6. Faust, M. 1999. Research update on Bt corn silage. Four State Applied  Nutrition and Management Conference. MWPS-4SD5. 158-164.   7. Folmer, J.D., G.E. Erickson, C.T. Milton, T.J. Klopfenstein and J.F. Beck.  2000. Utilization of Bt corn residue and corn silage for growing beef  steers. Abstract 271 presented at the Midwestern Section ASAS and Midwest  Branch ADSA 2000 Meeting, Des Moines, IA.

8. Folmer, J.D., R.J. Grant, C.T. Milton and J.F. Beck. 2000. Effect of Bt  corn silage on short-term lactational performance and ruminal fermentation  in dairy cows. J. Dairy Sci. 83 (5):1182 Abstract 272.

 9. Halle, I., K. Aulrich and G. Flachowsky. 1998. Einsatz von MaiskF6rnen der  Sorte Cesar und des gentechnisch verE4nderten Bt-Hybriden in der Broiler  mast. Proc. 5. Tagung, Schweine- und GeflhgelernE4hrung, 01,-03.12.1998,  Wittenberg p 265-267.

 10. Hammond, B., J. Vicini, G. Hartnell, M.W. Naylor, C.D. Knight, E.  Robinson, R. L. Fuchs, and S.R. Padgetteet al. 1996. The feeding value of  soybeans fed to rats, chickens, catfish and dairy cattle is not altered by  genetic incorporation of glyphosate tolerance. J. Nutr. 126: 717-727. {3399}

 11. Padgette, S., N. Taylor, D. Nider, et al. 1996. The composition of  glyphosate-tolerant soybean seed is equivalent to that of conventional  soybeans. J. Nutr. 126: 702-716.

 12. Russell, J. and T. Peterson. 1999. Bt corn and non-Bt corn crop residues  equal in grazing value. Extension News, June 30, 1999. Iowa State  University Extension, Ames.

 13. Russell, J.R., M.J. Hersom, A. Pugh, K. Barrett and D. Farnham. 2000.  Effects of grazingcrop residues from bt-corn hybrids on the performance of  gestating beef cows. Abstract244 presented at the Midwestern Section ASAS  and Midwest Branch ADSA 2000 Meeting, Des Moines, IA.

 14. Russell, J.R., D. Farnham, R.K. Berryman, M.J. Hersom, A. Pugh and K.  Barrett. 2000. Nutritive value of the crop residues from bt-corn hybrids  and their effects on performance of grazing beef cows. 2000 Beef Research  Report -Iowa State University. p 56-61.

 15. Sidhu, R.S., B.G. Hammond, R.L. Fuchs, J.N. Mutz, L.R. Holden, B. George  and T. Olson. 2000. Glyphosate-Tolerant Corn: The Composition and Feeding Value of Grain from Glyphosate-Tolerant Corn is Equivalent to That of  Conventional Corn (Zea Mays L.).  J. Agric. Food Chem. 48:2305-2312