Re: New ACNFP Chair - from bad to worse!
From: Dr Arpad Pusztai
Sent: 06 February 2002
To: Craig, Josephine
Subject: RE: Royal Society GM plants report
Dear Dr Craig,
I think that the Royal Society has made a step in the right direction in this third bite of the cherry (not GM cherry I hasten to add). That I think so may be of very little concern to the Royal Society. However, your report will amaze and puzzle many people as the Royal Society's new position on the safety (or otherwise) of GM food is now perilously close to mine. Some will not readily understand what could explain the difference between the relatively cautious tone of this and the Royal Society's unfair and biased second report on GM food after their unsolicited review of the Rowett-edited version of our work in May 1999 which had been passed on to the RS against my wishes. However, whatever is the explanation, I am sure, this change in the Royal Society's stance must be a good sign and as such welcome. However, I take this opportunity and correct some of the text in your report concerning my studies. I am sure as the Royal Society prides itself on its pre-eminent position in British science and as such is against factual inaccuracies, particularly in their own documents, there will be an attempt to correct these. Here are some of these.
In the first para it is stated that "In June 1999, the Royal Society published a report, Review on data on possible toxicity of GM potatoes, in response to claims made by Dr Pusztai (Ewen & Pusztai, 1999)". I am afraid, your report was in fact published in May 1999 and thus could not have responded (anticipated?) to our paper in the Lancet which was published in October 1999 unless, of course you have managed to get a copy of our paper which was then under consideration by the Lancet referees. I am sure, as this would have been unethical the Royal Society would not have done such a thing.
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.
It will be interesting to hear your views and comments on these and other matters relating to GM food. These I would post on my website together with this e-mail letter to the Royal Society in due course. In one of your earlier communications to me you encouraged me to respond to your GM enquiry which you were just about to begin. At the time I had to decline your kind offer for contractual reasons. However, there is nothing to stop me from starting up a dialogue with the Royal Society and its working group. After all, we share a common and noble objective of trying to serve the community with our science.
Looking forward to hearing from you
"Almost everything scientists are trying to achieve by genetically modifying crops can be achieved in other less risky ways. Whether the problem is pest or weed control, drought tolerance, yield or nutrition, there are countless, though poorly supported, farming methods that can be used before needing to open pandora's box of genetic tricks. GM advocates seem only to have discovered the cause of poverty eradication now that they have something to sell." - Andrew Simms
World hunger needs a simple solution rather than hi-tech GM food