Árpád Pusztai

Árpád Pusztai (September 8, 1930) is a Hungarian-born protein scientist who has spent most of his career, from 1968-1995, at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland. He is considered the world's foremost expert on plant lectins, and is the author of 270 papers and three books on the subject.

In 1998 Pusztai publicly announced that the results of his research show eating genetically modified potato causes harm to rats, leading to his dismissal from the institute. The resulting controversy over the dismissal and the validity of his research's conclusions became known as the Pusztai affair.

In 2005, he received the Whistleblower Award from the German Section of the International Association of Lawyers against Nuclear Arms (IALANA) and the Federation of German Scientists (VDW). [cite web|url=http://education.guardian.co.uk/egweekly/story/0,,2240547,00.html| title=Arpad Pusztai: Biological Divide – James Randerson interviews biologist Arpad Pusztai |publisher=The Guardian|date=January 15, 2008] [cite book| author=Dieter Deiseroth, Annegret Falter (Hrsg.) |title=Whistleblower in Gentechnik und Rüstungsforschung Preisverleihung 2005: Theodore A. Postol, Arpad Pusztai |publisher=VMW |year=2006 |isbn=978-3-8305-1262-2] [cite web|url=http://www.cbd.int/doc/external/mop-04/fgs-1-en.pdf|title=Federation of German Scientists]

GM potato controversy

Between 1995 and 1998 he performed a series of experiments on some genetically modified potatoes which had been developed by an English biotech company, Cambridge Agricultural Genetics, later called Axis Genetics. They had been field-grown at Rothamsted, and were intended for commercialisation. The potatoes were the widely grown desiree red variety, modified with a gene taken from snowdrop (Galanthus) plants, that caused the potatoes to express snowdrop lectin, a protein which Árpád Pusztai had previously shown to be toxic to insects but harmless to mammals.

Initially Pusztai and his team observed a lack of correlation between levels of the lectin in the potato leaves and their toxicity to insects. Subsequently they experimented by feeding rats on raw and cooked genetically modified potatoes, using Desiree Red potatoes as controls. One of the controls was unmodified desiree red potatoes mixed with snowdrop lectin. The rats fed on the genetically modified potatoes showed intestine damage and harm to their immune systems. These effects were not observed in rats fed on unmodified potatoes, or unmodified potatoes mixed with snowdrop lectin. The team concluded that the effects observed were a result of the genetic modification, not the snowdrop lectin.

The following paragraph was taken from an interview of Dr. Pusztai, "We had two kinds of potatoes - one GM and the other non-GM. I had expected that the GM potato, with 20 micrograms of a component against the several grams of other components, should not cause any problems. But we found problems. Our studies clearly show that the effects were not due to that little gene expression, but it depended on the way the gene had been inserted into the potato genome and what it did to the potato genome."cite web|url=http://www.healthcoalition.ca/pusztai.html| title=Interview with Arpad Pusztai|publisher=Canadian Health Coalition|November 10, 2000]

On 10th October, the day that the documentary was due to be broadcast he was invited onto an early morning television debate, but informed beforehand by the Rowett Institute that he was not permitted to discuss details of the experiment. That morning, the Rowett Institute received two phone calls from 10 Downing Street. [Arpad Pusztai - Personal communication] According to Professor Robert Orskov OBE, who worked at the Rowett for 33 years and is one of Britain's leading nutrition experts. The phone calls went from Monsanto, the American firm which produces 90% of the world's GM food, to Bill Clinton and then to Tony Blair, and then to Rowett direcor Philip James. [ [http://www.gmwatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=1041 Daily Mail article detailling the events surrounding Arpad Pusztai's sacking] ]

'Clinton rang Blair and Blair rang James,' says Professor Orskov.

Phone calls to Árpád Pusztai's office were diverted, and Árpád Pusztai was suspended and legally gagged, along with his wife and colleague Susan Bardocz. His data was confiscated and his team were disbanded. The potatoes were subsequently destroyed, along with all details of their modification (a commercial secret of Cambridge Agricultural Genetics, which subsequently ceased business).

Initially the Rowett Institute claimed that they were not doing any research on GM crops. Later the Rowett Institute claimed that Árpád Pusztai had voluntarily retired, and apologised for his "mistake". According to this version of the story, the experiments had never been performed and a student had accidentally confused control data with experimental data. It was claimed that Pusztai had modified the potatoes with toxic Jack Bean lectin. Sir Robert May told Radio 4's Today programme: "If you mix cyanide with vermouth in a cocktail and find that it is not good for you, I don't draw sweeping conclusions that you should ban all mixed drinks." Similar statements were also made by the Agriculture Minister Jack Cunningham the Rowett Institute also announced that they were publishing Árpád Pusztai's data online so that the public could draw their own conclusions, but omitted much of the data making the remainder statistically meaningless. [Arpad Pusztai - Personal communication]

In 1999 Árpád Pusztai and Stanley Ewen published their results in "The Lancet" (link below). An unamed member of the Royal Society allegedly put strong pressure on The Lancet not to publish, including a threatening phone call to The Lancet editor. [ [http://www.gene.ch/genet/1999/Nov/msg00018.html Pro-GM food scientist accused of threatening Lancet editor] ]

ee also

*Genetically modified food controversies


* Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine - S. W. Ewen, A. Pusztai (16 Oct 1999); [http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140673698058607/fulltext Lancet 354(9187):1353] (PMID [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?db=pubmed&cmd=Retrieve&dopt=AbstractPlus&list_uids=10533866 10533866] )

External links

* [http://www.freenetpages.co.uk/hp/a.pusztai/ Dr. Pusztai's Personal Homepage]
* [http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199899/cmselect/cmsctech/286/9030801.htm Minutes of evidence taken before the science and technology committee - Monday 8 March 1999] - the records of the Science and Technology Committee's inquiry into the Pusztai affair
* [http://www.healthcoalition.ca/pusztai.html Interview] with Dr. Pusztai
* [http://www.psrast.org/pusztai.htm "World renowned scientist lost his job when he warned about GE foods"]
* [http://plab.ku.dk/tcbh/RowettvsPusztai.htm The Rowett institute vs Pusztai]
* [http://www.gene.ch/genet/1999/Nov/msg00018.html Pro-GM food scientist accused of threatening Lancet editor]
*http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-842180934463681887 The World According to Monsanto - A documentary by Marie-Monique Robin, production: arte, 11. März 2008.

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