'The Sinister Sacking of the World's Leading GM Expert - and the trail that leads to Tony Blair and the White House'
by Andrew Rowell (Daily Mail 7/7/03 - extracts)
'Early one fine summer morning, a taxi pulled up outside a terrace house in Aberdeen and took a 68 year old scientist to a TV studio. Shortly afterwards, Dr. Arpad Pusztai found himself propelled from a life of welcome obscurity to the centre of a 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 2 1/2 minute interview on ITV's World in Action revealed his research suggesting rats fed on GM potatoes suffered stunted growth and damage to their immune system.'
'It triggered a controversy that put him on collision course with the Government, biotech industry and 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 manoeuvring at the highest political level.
Some of the allegations are truly explosive. They raise profound questions about the 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 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 economy. What Dr. Pusztai was saying threatened to derail those ambitions.'
'Dr. Pusztai 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 which are central to the GM controversy. He was the world's leading expert on the subject.'
'In the 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, Institute director Professor Philip James congratulated Dr. Pusztai on 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, he 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 emails were diverted; his personal assistant was banned from speaking to him. He read in a press release from 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 liver, heart and other organs got smaller. He also found that the size of their brain was affected but did not dare publicise this fact in case 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 disowning them. First it claimed Dr. Pusztai had simply muddled up the results for two different batches of potatoes. The worrying results came from a 'control' sample containing a substance known to be poisonous.'
'The trouble was it wasn't true. Dr. Pusztai hadn't mixed up the results - as an 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 discredited, the Institute accepted that Dr. Pusztai had acted in good faith and described him as "an intense investigative scientist wth 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 he was fired as a direct consequence of Tony Blair's intervention. The day after the World in Action broadcast, he believes that two phone calls were put through to his boss, Philip James, from the Prime Minister's office.'
'The following day he was fired. He says he was informed of the calls by two different employees at the Rowett. Dr. Pusztai and his wife were also told by a senior manager at the Institute that Blair's intervention followed a phone call 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?'
'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 rejected out of hand."
'The second source to confirm the story is Prof. 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 Prof. Orskov. "There is no doubt he was pushed by Blair to do something. It was damaging the relationship between the US and the UK because it was going to be a huge blow for Monsanto."
'It is no secret that Blair was persuaded to support GM by Clinton and 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.' (!!....Zeus)
'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.
'Prof. James vehemently denies acting on orders from the Premier. Dowing Street is equally dismissive of the claims. Dr. Pusztai, however, remains convinced he was punished for following his conscience. "I 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 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 Dr. Pusztai's work and sought to undermine his reputation.
In May 1999 reports attacking him were published by the Royal Society - the voice of the scientific establishment - and the Science and Technology Select Committee.'
'Jack Cunningham, poured scorn on Dr. Pusztai's 'wholly misleading results' and promised that all GM food on sale in Britain was safe to eat. It smacked of a coordinated counter attack. A government memo reveals 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 £75 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. 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 single largest donor, having given the party more than £8 million since it came to power. The irony of Sainsbury being in charge of a pro-GM science policy was highlighted when it emerged he had made a £20 million paper profit in 4 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 such as Dr. Pusztai find themselves pushed to the fringes and turned into scapegoats.'
'The oddest twist of all came in May 1999 when he and his wife went abroad for a few days to escape the controversy surounding them. Their house was burgled and the only things taken were some 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 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."
The book 'Don't Worry (It's Safe to Eat)' by Andrew Rowell is published by Earthscan on July 10
'We just don't know the damage GM can cause, says Meacher'
GM foods could pose a serious risk to health, former Environment Minister Michael Meacher said yesterday.
Consumers face possible damage to the immune system, sexual development, stomach and gut, he warned.
And he called for fundamental scientific research into the long term health risks before the government gives approval to commercial growing of GM crops.
Mr. Meacher urged caution to wait until research which could take up to ten years, had been completed. "There's not enough evidence yet to make a decision. What's the hurry? The human race have fed themselves for quarter of a million years".
Mr. Meacher who was sacked from the Government last month said the lack of research was "scandalous".
"There have been absolutely no epidemiological or health trials in the US to find out the effects", he told Sky TV. "There could be risks of lesions to the stomach - these have certainly been found in animal tests. There have been no tests." Fears have been raised in the past that GM foods could contain previously unknown allegens which could triger serious health problems.
Mr. Meacher who has become increasingly vocal about GM safety since his sacking, said that a recent report from the General Medical Council stated that GM could switch on 'silent' genes whose effects were unknown.
His intervention came as the Govenrment was accused of sabotaging the GM debate by delaying studies on the implications of growing GM crops in Britain.
Downing Street has been accused of manipulating publication of work to suit its pro-GM agenda. 2 reports, a cost and benefit analysis and an investigation of the science were due to be released alongside the GM Nation debate. They were supposed to provide information for the many public debates held since June 3rd and the thousands who have filled in official questionnaires. Neither of these reports will be published in time for those attending meetings or for ordinary consumers. The report on costs and benefits by the Strategy Unit, will not appear for another 3 weeks, only after the public debate ends on 18th July. A separate study on GM science by Sir David King is not expected until 14th July.
One source close to the debate's steering body, said it was ridiculous to promise a debate on GM and then deny the public the opportunity to examine and comment on key elements of the evidence. "It would be like holding a murder trial without hearing from expert witnesses. I am led to the conclusion that the Government is not really interested in what the public thinks at all".
All the evidence from the GM Nation studies, meetings and surveys is that the majority do not want GM as long as there are doubts about its safety for health and the environment.
The source at the steering group, which is chaired by Prof. Malcolm Grant, suspects Downing Street wants its own studies to take precedence over public opinion.
A third vital element, the results of a large farm scale trials of a range of new GM crops in this country, will not be available until the autumn.
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