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UK BRIEFING on important points in the EU GE Foods--Pusztai story

A scientific briefing that took place yesterday at the House of Commons
re: Pusztai. The media have indeed covered this issue widely over the
last 48 hours, yet ALL have missed the most important points. This has
allowed inaccurate and extremely misleading comments by Jack Cunningham,
to go unchallenged. The media alert below, was put together by Luke
Anderson, organiser of the House of Commons briefing yesterday. It is an attempt to
clarify the most important points surrounding the Pusztai story.

=====
Urgent Press briefing re: Dr. Arpad Pusztai
For more information please contact Luke Anderson on: 07957 188621
=====

The intention of this briefing is to clarify some of the key points which
are being overlooked in the discussions centred on the research of Dr.
Arpad Pusztai:

1. Jack Cunningham has repeatedly said that "It is simply not sensible to
conclude that if a laboratory experiment with a known toxin added caused
damage to rats, that all other GM potatoes are therefore unsafe." He has
clearly not looked at the science, nor it seems have many of the other
so-called experts who have repeated the same argument. The potatoes which
had the snowdrop lectin (GNA) added to them did not affect the rats in the
same way as the potatoes genetically engineered with the snowdrop lectin
even though the lectin was present in equal concentrations in both. This
points to the process of genetic engineering itself.

2. The snowdrop lectin was used precisely because it was not thought to be
toxic to mammalian systems. Dr. Pusztai, the world authority on lectins,
had been working with the snowdrop lectin for seven years and had high
hopes for its potential use in food crops. Indeed, the snowdrop lectin
has been genetically engineered into a number of crops with a view to
commercialisation (e.g. rice and oilseed rape). Cabbages genetically
engineered with this lectin are being grown in trials this year in
Holland.

3. Unlike the snowdrop lectin, ConA (the lectin taken from the Jackbean)
is known to be toxic to mammalian systems. For this reason it was never
seriously considered by Dr. Pusztai for use in food crops. This was a
source of much confusion last August when the Rowett Institute told the
press that these experiments had involved potatoes genetically engineered
with the jackbean lectin. Dr. Pusztai never suggested that he was using
potatoes genetically engineered with this lectin. Potatoes which had the
jackbean lectin added were used in the experiments to test the
responsiveness of the immune system precisely because, being toxic, they
stimulate it. Nor did Dr. Pusztai accept that he was muddled or confused
about the experiments. This is backed by the twenty one distinguished
scientists from twelve countries who looked in detail at the data. The
reason that Dr. Pusztai was not able to clear up this confusion at the
time was that he was sacked and threatened with legal action if he spoke
out.

4. Lectins are used in genetically engineered food that we are eating in
the UK right now. Many crops, such as maize for example, have been
genetically engineered with the Bt toxin, now understood to be a form of
lectin. Genetically engineered Bt crops were grown last year on 7.7
million hectares world-wide (mostly in the US). We are eating this Bt
maize in the UK, and it has not been tested to see if it has similar
effects. In fact, talk as it might about the long regulatory process that
GM products need to go through before they are approved, the government
does not at present require that GM foods undergo thorough feed trials.

5. This is based on a concept called 'substantial equivalence', which
effectively means that if a GM product is seen to be grossly similar to a
non-GM product, it does not need to be thoroughly tested (on the
assumption that it we be no more dangerous than its non GM equivalent).
The GM potatoes that were being tested by Pusztai were declared by the
Rowett Institute to be substantially equivalent therefore by the
government's own criteria they would not have been subject to the
long-term trials carried out by Pusztai and his team. The effect on the
mammalian system would not therefore have been discovered within the
present regulatory framework.

6. Cunningham has also said that "The scientists who spoke out have not
as yet provided any evidence to our advisory groups, to our scientists.
They have been asked for it now for some considerable time. As soon as
they do make their findings available to us of course we shall examine
them quickly and comprehensively." This is not true. The scientists have
not been asked by the government to provide information. This information
is publicly available now and the Scottish Office were given the report in
October. The government has had access to this information for months.

7. Dr. Pusztai is an internationally renowned expert in the field of
lectin research. He has published 280 scientific papers and written 3
books. If he, in an institute funded by taxpayers' money, can have his
reputation destroyed, his research suppressed, and be gagged under the
BBSRC code which applies to all publicly funded research scientists in the
country, what message does this give to other scientists who may have
controversial findings?

Comments from letters written to Dr. Pusztai in response to reading the
official Audit report made by the Rowett Research Institute and the
Alternative report written by Pusztai himself, as the co-ordinator of the
research team:

"I find Dr. Pusztai's conclusions to be entirely consistent with the data
presented in his alternative report. I find it deeply regretful that Dr.
Pusztai's conclusions were not presented by the Director of the Rowett
Research Institute to the House of Lords Select Committee on Science And
Technology as a minority report presenting evidence that there are grounds
for concern in the use of genetically engineered foods and a need for
further research into their effects on mammals. I regret that there has
been no attempt by the Rowett Research Institute to re-establish Dr.
Pusztai's high scientific credentials with the media after the damage done
to him by the Director in reporting publicly that Dr. Pusztai was
responsible for producing confusion and muddle about the results and
implications, a charge later withdrawn. This is the most serious damage
that any scientist can suffer and it requires rectification."

Professor Brian Goodwin, scholar in residence, Schumacher College

"I believe that the results obtained indicate major potential problems
that could amount to adverse affects tantamount to food hazard. The audit
report seriously underplays the hazards revealed by these experiments and
diverts the testing of food safety to unspecified regulatory procedures.
Great potential risk has been highlighted. Simple toxicity experiments
would not
have revealed these dangers. Urgent attention must be given to
demonstrating that the vector used (in all GE food currently available in
the UK) does not cause analogous structural changes within the mammalian
gut. Careful study of this report leads me to conclude that essential
data
concerning organ weights have been withheld. The missing data on organ
weights does raise the possibility of deliberate cover-up by the persons
collating the (audit) report data."

Dr. Stanley Ewen, consultant histopathologist at the University of
Aberdeen Medical School

"Caution in developing robust and exhaustive hazard assessments for
potentially irreversible changes to staple constituents of the human food
chain is essential. The final opinion of the audit committee that 'The
existing data does not support any suggestion that the consumption by rats
of transgenic potatoes expressing GNA has an effect on growth organ
development or immune function' is surprising. A major problem with the
(audit) report is that the authors have been selective with the data they
have included, which makes an objective appraisal of their conclusions
impossible from solely reading the audit report. I have the impression
from reading the audit report that it was hastily compiled and
systematically biased towards brushing aside your experimental findings.
I feel that it is urgent that the full data from these experiments should
be brought into the public arena and debated. The sequelae of your
findings are of considerable importance in the current debate on the
safety and hazard assessment of genetically modified foods."

Dr. Vyvyan Howard, Head of Research in Fetal and Infant Toxico-Pathology
at the University of Liverpool

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