Arpad Pusztai

Árpád Pusztai (8 September 1930) is a Hungarian-born biochemist and nutritionist who spent 36 years at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland. He is a world expert on plant lectins, authoring 270 papers and three books on the subject.

In 1998, Árpád Pusztai publicly announced that the results of his research showed feeding genetically modified potatoes to rats had negative effects on their stomach lining and immune system. This led to scientific criticism. Pusztai was suspended and his annual contract was not renewed. The resulting controversy became known as the Pusztai affair.” —  Wikipedia

Arpad Pusztai was one of the first scientists to raise concerns about the safety of genetically modified foods. In the late 1990s, Pusztai, a respected molecular biologist, conducted research on GM potatoes for the Rowett Institute in Scotland. The potatoes were genetically altered to produce lectins, natural insecticides, to protect them against aphids. Pusztai conducted feeding studies on rats and found that the potatoes damaged the animals' gut, other organs, and immune system. In 1998, Pusztai expressed his concerns about GM foods on a British television program and was promptly suspended and forced to retire from his position. Dr. Pusztai's research was later peer reviewed and published in The Lancet, a leading British medical journal. You were initially supportive of genetically modified foods, is that correct? Yes, I thought at the time on the basis of rather poor understanding of genetic modification that it was a good idea. As we progressed with our experimental work we found all the snags and I had to re-assess my ideas. What negative impacts did you find with GM potatoes you were developing? The first problem that we encountered was when we tried to correlate the protection of the potato plant leaves against aphid attack with the transgene expression level. We found there was very little or no correlation at all. That is a major flaw, sufficient to question the validity of the whole idea. The next was that the transgenically expressed insecticidal protein did not only damage the aphid pests but also their natural enemies, such as the ladybugs. What was particularly damaging for the validity of genetic modification was when we found that diets based on GM potatoes affected the growth, organ development, and immune reactivity of young rapidly growing rats. The final straw was when we showed that the damage originated not from the transgene and its expressed product but from the damage caused by the insertion of the transgene, probably due to insertional mutagenesis.
Biologist Arpad Pusztai had more than 300 articles and 12 books to his credit and was the world’s top expert in his field. But when he accidentally discovered that genetically modified (GM) foods are dangerous, he became the biotech industry’s bad-boy poster child, setting an example for other scientists thinking about blowing the whistle. In the early 1990s, Dr. Pusztai was awarded a $3 million grant by the UK government to design the system for safety-testing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). His team included more than 20 scientists working at three facilities, including the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland, the top nutritional research lab in the UK, and his employer for the previous 35 years. The results of Pusztai’s work were supposed to become the required testing protocols for all of Europe. But when he fed supposedly harmless GM potatoes to rats, things didn’t go as planned. Within just 10 days, the animals developed potentially pre-cancerous cell growth, smaller brains, livers and testicles, partially atrophied livers, and damaged immune systems. Moreover, the cause was almost certainly side effects from the process of genetic engineering itself. In other words, the GM foods on the market, which are created from the same process, might have similar affects on humans. With permission from his director, Pusztai was interviewed on TV and expressed his concerns about GM foods. He became a hero at his institute – for two days. Then came the phone calls from the pro-GMO prime minister’s office to the institute’s director. The next morning, Pusztai was fired. He was silenced with threats of a lawsuit, his team was dismantled, and the protocols never implemented. His institute, the biotech industry, and the UK government, together launched a smear campaign to destroy Pusztai’s reputation. Arpad Pusztai, saw his career runied by big government and big agri-business because he told the truth about GM food Eventually, an invitation to speak before Parliament lifted his gag order and his research was published in the prestigious Lancet. No similar in-depth studies have yet tested the GM foods eaten every day by Americans. Trail of Devastated, Silenced Scientists The treatment of Dr. Pusztai sent a chilling precedent around the world. By 2001, New Zealand Parliament member Sue Kedgley told the 2001 Royal Commission of Inquiry on Genetic Modification: “Personally I have been contacted by telephone and e-mail by a number of scientists who have serious concerns about aspects of the research that is taking place . . . and the increasingly close ties that are developing between science and commerce, but who are convinced that if they express these fears publicly, even at such a commission. . . or even if they asked the awkward and difficult questions, they will be eased out of their institution.” On September 2, 2009, the prestigious journal Nature acknowledged that the regular attacks on biotech researchers are orchestrated by a “large block of scientists who denigrate research by other legitimate scientists in a knee-jerk, partisan, emotional way that is not helpful in advancing knowledge and is outside the ideals of scientific inquiry.” These attacks have all but stopped independent research into the health and environmental side-effects of GMOs. According to University of California at Berkeley professor Ignacio Chapela, there is a de facto ban on scientists “asking certain questions and finding certain results.” He says, “It’s very hard for us to publish in this field. People are scared.” Scientists involved in research on the effects of GMOs are being threatened and fired from their jobs.Dr. Charles Benbrook, former Executive Director of the Board on Agriculture of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, said he has personally spoken with dozens of scientists who “had to contend with this backlash and these counter attacks that the industry unleashes on scientists that they view as a threat. The majority of them get out of the field. The majority of them will not put themselves, or their families, or their career at that kind of risk again.” he said. Indian Supreme Court Uncovers Regulatory Scam In February 2008, the Indian Supreme Court asked renowned biologist P. M. Bhargava to evaluate the practices of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). Dr. Bhargava attended meetings, studied submissions, and consulted more than 600 scientific journals for his analysis. After 10 months he concluded that not only was the Indian approval system inadequate, but no GM crop in the world had ever been properly evaluated. In fact, of the 29 different categories of scientific research that he said should be conducted to protect the environment and public health, only 10% had been addressed. But these studies were industry-funded – designed so poorly that Dr. Bhargava deemed them worthless. He asked the Prime Minister and Health Minister to institute an immediate moratorium on GMOs until adequate tests could be completed. While attending the GEAC, whenever Dr. Bhargava presented adverse findings about GMOs, the material was summarily dismissed with the statement, “That’s been discredited.” It didn’t matter what prominent journal or highly credentialed scientist had published the work, the response was automatic. When Dr. Bhargava submitted his own report on the GEAC, they tried to discredit him in the same way. Dr Bhargava found that no GM crop in the world had ever been properly evaluated. The GEAC attempted to portray him as anti-government, which was ludicrous. Dr. Bhargava had served on over 100 government committees, including the intelligence committee where he had unrestricted access to secret government documents. The GEAC also claimed that he had no experience publishing DNA or RNA research. In reality, Dr. Bhargava had published more relevant papers than all the GEAC members combined. Dirt Down Under Epidemiologist Judy Carman used to investigate outbreaks of disease for a state government in Australia. She knows that health problems associated with GM foods might be impossible to track or take decades to discover. Moreover, the superficial, short-term animal feeding studies usually do not evaluate biochemistry, immunology, tissue pathology, gut function, liver function, and kidney function, and are too short to test for cancer or reproductive or child health. Dr. Carman has critiqued the GMO approval process on behalf of the Public Health Association of Australia and speaks openly about her concerns. As a result, she is repeatedly attacked. Pro-GMO scientists threatened disciplinary action through her Vice-Chancellor, and circulated a defamatory letter to government and university officials. Carman was awarded a grant by the Western Australia government to conduct some of the few long-term animal feeding studies on GMOs. Apparently concerned about what she might find, GMO advocates wrote letters to the government demanding that the grant be withdrawn. One scientist tried to convince the Western Australia Agriculture minister that sufficient safety research had been conducted and he should therefore cancel the grant. As his evidence, however, he presented a report summarizing only 60 GMO animal feeding studies – an infinitesimal amount of research to justify exposing the entire population to GM foods. A closer investigation, however, revealed that most of the 60 studies were not safety studies at all. They were production studies, measuring, for example, the animals’ carcass weight. Only 9 contained data applicable to human health. And 6 of the 9 showed adverse effects in animals that ate GM feed! Furthermore, there were several other studies with adverse findings that were mysteriously missing from the compilation. Carman points out that the report “does not support claims that GM crops are safe to eat. On the contrary, it provides evidence that GM crops may be harmful to health.” When the Western Government refused to withdraw the grant, opponents successfully interfered with Carman’s relationship with the university where she was to do the research. Double Standards Prominent Norwegian virologist Terje Traavik presented preliminary data at a February 2004 meeting at the UN Biosafety Protocol Conference, showing that: Filipinos living next to a GM cornfield developed serious symptoms while the corn was pollinating; Genetic material inserted into GM crops was transferred to rat organs after a single meal; Key safety assumptions about genetically engineered viruses were overturned, calling into question the safety of using these viruses in vaccines. The biotech industry mercilessly attacked Dr. Traavik, using the pretense that he presented unpublished work. But presentation of preliminary data at professional conferences is a long tradition in science, something that the biotech industry itself relies on. Ironically, three years later, biotech proponents sharply criticized a peer-reviewed publication for not citing unpublished data that had been presented at a conference. Birth Defects Courtesy of Monsanto’s Roundup Embryologist Andrés Carrasco is the director of the Laboratory of Molecular Embryology, University of Buenos Aires Medical School, and lead researcher of the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research. In 2010, he discovered that Roundup, the herbicide sold in conjunction with most GM crops, could cause defects in the brain, intestines, and hearts of amphibian fetuses. His results supported the reports of peasants who suffered birth defects after being sprayed by Roundup. The industry responded by ridiculing the research and even threatening him personally. Four men arrived unannounced at his laboratory and were extremely aggressive, attempting to interrogate Carrasco and search his premises. Later, a violent gang prevented Dr. Carrasco from giving a speech on his findings, beat up his colleagues, and for two hours attacked the car where Dr. Carrasco was holed up. Threats to Family, Fake Attackers Ignacio Chapela is a microbial ecologist from UC Berkeley. In 2001, he discovered that the indigenous corn varieties in Mexico – the source of the world’s genetic diversity for corn – had become contaminated through cross-pollination with GM varieties. The government had a ban against GM corn to prevent just this possibility, but apparently US corn imported for food had been planted nonetheless. Dr. Chapela submitted the finding to Nature, and as a courtesy that he later regretted, informed the Mexican government about the pending publication. He was called in to meet with a furious Director of the Commission of Biosafety and GMOs. Chapela’s confirmation of contamination would hinder introduction of GM corn. Therefore, the government’s top biotech man demanded that he withdraw his article. According to Chapela, the official intimidated and threatened him, even implying, “We know where your children go to school.” When a traumatized Chapela still did not back down, the Underminister for Agriculture later sent him a fax claiming that because of his scientific paper, Chapela would be held personally responsible for all damages caused to agriculture and to the economy in general. The day Chapela’s paper was published, Mary Murphy and Andura Smetacek began posting messages to a biotechnology listserve called AgBioWorld, distributed to more than 3,000 scientists. They falsely claimed that Chapela was biased, that his paper had not been peer-reviewed, that Chapela was “first and foremost an activist,” and his research was published in collusion with environmentalists. Soon, hundreds of other messages appeared, repeating or embellishing the accusations. The listserv launched a petition and besieged Nature with a worldwide campaign demanding retraction. UC Berkeley also received letters from all over the world trying to convince them not to grant Chapela tenure. He had overwhelming support from his college and department, but the international biotech lobby was too much. Chapela’s tenure was denied. After he filed a lawsuit, the university eventually reversed its decision. When investigators later analyzed the email characteristics sent by agitators Mary Murphy and Andura Smetacek, it turned out that the two were not the average citizens they claimed. According to the Guardian, both were fabricated names used by a public relations firm that worked for Monsanto. Some of Smetacek’s emails also had the internet protocol address of gatekeeper2.monsanto.com – the server owned by Monsanto. Denying Access to Seeds In addition to using threats and other attack strategies, the biotech industry has limited independent research by denying scientists access to their patented seeds. For example: When Ohio State University plant ecologist Allison Snow discovered problematic side effects in GM sunflowers, Pioneer Hi-Bred International and Dow AgroSciences blocked further research by withholding GM seeds and genes. After Marc Lappé and Britt Bailey found significant reductions in cancer-fighting isoflavones in Monsanto’s GM soybeans, the seed seller Hartz told them they could no longer provide samples. Research by a plant geneticist at a leading US university was also thwarted when two companies refused him GM corn. When a Japanese scientist wanted to conduct animal feeding studies on the GM soybeans under review in Japan, both the government and the bean’s maker DuPont refused to give him any samples. Hungarian Professor Bela Darvas discovered that Monsanto’s GM corn hurt endangered species in his own country. Monsanto immediately shut off his supplies. Dr. Darvas later gave a speech on his preliminary findings and discovered that a false and incriminating report about his research was circulating. He traced it to a Monsanto public relations employee, who claimed that it mysteriously appeared on her desk – so she faxed it out. Almost no independent studies are conducted. According to a scathing opinion piece in an August 2009 Scientific American, “Agritech companies have given themselves veto power over the work of independent researchers. . . . Only studies that the seed companies have approved ever see the light of a peer-reviewed journal.” A group of 26 insect scientists protested this restriction in a letter submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency. They warned that the inability to access GM seeds from biotech companies means there can be no truly independent research on the critical questions. The scientists, of course, withheld their identities for fear of reprisals from the companies. French Resistance French Professor G. E. Seralini has conducted pivotal research that highlights adverse health effects from GM plants and the associated herbicide Roundup, including endocrine disruption, toxicity, and immune responses. He also identified unreported side-effects in Monsanto’s own rat studies that were hidden in the company’s dubious statistics. Seralini was, of course, attacked by GMO advocates. But they picked the wrong guy. He sued his detractor last year for libel, and in January of this year was declared victorious by the French courts. Doctor’s Orders In spite of the lack of independent studies, there is already significant evidence that GMOs are harmful. Citing results from animal feeding studies such as reproductive disorders, organ damage, accelerated aging, gastrointestinal problems, and immune system dysfunction, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine now urges all doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets. Of course, following the doctors’ orders can be difficult, since the US is one of the only industrialized nations that do not require labeling of GMOs. That’s because the person in charge of GMO policy at the FDA was the former attorney for biotech giant Monsanto, and later their vice-president. Now he’s back at the FDA as US Food Safety Czar. His policy also ignored the overwhelming consensus among FDA scientists, warning about potential dangers and urging caution and rigorous testing requirements. Instead, the policy of the FDA does not require a single safety test, and allows Monsanto – the company that told us PCBs, Agent Orange, and DDT were safe – to determine if it’s GMOs are safe. Fortunately, there are thousands of products that are voluntarily labeled as non-GMO. You can find them at NonGMOShoppingGuide.com.
Anniversary of a Whistleblowing Hero
Jeffrey Smith
Consumer Advocate and Author, ‘Seeds of Deception
(excerpt from full Huffington Post article below.  click for full article)
 Part 1 (Click here for Part 2 ») Twelve years ago, a 150-second TV broadcast changed our world; everyone everywhere owes a debt of gratitude to the man whose life it turned upside down—in his effort to protect ours. On August 10, 1998, eminent scientist Dr. Arpad Pusztai (pronounced Poos-tie) dared to speak the truth. He had been an enthusiastic supporter of genetic engineering, working on cutting edge safety research with genetically modified (GM) foods. But to his surprise, his experiments showed that GM foods were inherently dangerous. When he relayed his concerns during a short television interview in the UK, things got ugly. With support from the highest levels of government, biotech defenders quickly mobilized a coordinated attack campaign trying to distort and cover up the evidence. It worked for a while, but when an order of Parliament lifted Dr. Pusztai's gag order, the revelations touched off a media firestorm that ultimately kicked GM foods out of European supermarkets, and derailed the industry's timetable to quickly replace virtually all food with genetically engineered alternatives. I recount the dramatic story of Dr. Pusztai below. In Part 2, I respond point-by-point to the biotech industry's denial and spin over the Pusztai affair, which is still being hyped in their new attack website. Pusztai's Hot Potatoes By early 1996, genetically modified tomatoes had been sold in US supermarkets for more than a year, and GM soy, corn, and cottonseed were about to be widely planted. But not a single peer-reviewed study on the safety of GM foods had been published, and there was not even an agreed-upon protocol for answering the question,"Is this stuff safe?" The UK government was about to change all that, and Hungarian born chemist Dr. Arpad Pusztai was their man to do it. He beat out 27 competing scientists for a £1.6 million grant to develop a safety testing protocol; it was supposed to eventually be required for all GM food approvals in Europe. A Spud with Fire-Power Pusztai's team was working with the vegetable equivalent of a James Bond car—complete with built-in weaponry. A potato was outfitted with an assassin gene from the snowdrop plant; the gene produced"GNA lectin," a protein that kills insects. How did Dr. Pusztai feel about the fact that his prestigious Rowett Institute was preparing to release killer potatoes into supermarkets worldwide? Fine, actually. He knew that the GNA lectin was harmless—not to insects mind you, but to us mammals. Dr. Pusztai was the world's leading expert on lectin proteins, and the GNA lectin was the one he knew most about. He had studied it for nearly seven years. But when Dr. Pusztai fed the GM potato to rats using his new safety testing protocol, he got a shock. Nearly every system in the rats' bodies was adversely affected—several in just 10 days. Their brains, livers, and testicles were smaller, while their pancreases and intestines were enlarged. The liver was partially atrophied. Organs related to the immune system, including the thymus and the spleen, showed significant changes. Their white blood cells responded to an immune challenge more slowly, indicating immune system damage. 2010-08-09-researchresults.jpg In all cases, the GM potato created proliferative cell growth in the stomach and small and large intestines; the lining was significantly thicker than controls. Although no tumors were detected, such growth can be precancerous. Side Effects of Genetic Engineering Implicated Dr. Pusztai and his team knew that the GNA lectin had not caused the damage. Other rats had been fed natural potatoes spiked with the same amount of GNA insecticide that the GM spud produced—and they did fine. The control group fed natural potatoes without added lectin were also in good shape. And in a previous experiment, Dr. Pusztai had fed rats an enormous quantity of the lectin, about 700 times the amount produced in the GM potato, again with no effect. The damage to the rats, it appeared, came rather from the unintended side effects of the genetic engineering process. These effects (from gene insertion and cell cloning) may include massive collateral damage in a plant's DNA, with hundreds or thousands of mutations. Important natural genes can be inadvertently turned off, permanently turned on, deleted, reversed, scrambled, moved, fragmented, or changed in their activity level. Dr. Pusztai wanted to find out precisely what went wrong in his potatoes, so he asked the government to provide more funds to conduct follow-up studies. But Prime Minister Tony Blair, his ministers, and his entire political party, were all unapologetic biotech cheerleaders trying desperately to promote them to a skeptical public. Exposing problems with GMO technology wasn't on the government's agenda. Additional funds were not forthcoming. Biotech Damage Control Kicks In The UK television show "World in Action" asked Dr. Pusztai for an interview. With permission from his Institute's director, he spoke generally about his concerns with GMOs based on the findings. He was careful not to reveal the details of his study, which was still unpublished. His 150-second interview was aired on August 10, 1998. The European Press went wild and Dr. Pusztai was propelled to the status of hero at the Rowett Institute. The Institute's director, Professor Phillip James, took over all the publicity efforts, described the research as a huge advance in science, and wrote in a press release,"a range of carefully controlled studies underlie the basis of Dr. Pusztai's concerns." On the afternoon of August 11th, two phone calls were allegedly placed from the UK prime minister's office, forwarded through the Institute's receptionist, to Professor James. Dr. Pusztai's hero status was revoked. The next morning, the director suspended Dr. Pusztai after 35 years of service. He was silenced with threats of a lawsuit and his twenty member research team disbanded. The government never implemented their GMO safety testing protocol. The Institute released numerous statements, some contradicting each other, others misrepresenting the research, but all designed to discredit Dr. Pusztai and the implications of his findings. Seven months (and one heart attack) later, Dr. Pusztai's gag order was lifted when the Parliament invited him to testify. As the true details of the study began to emerge, the media responded. About 750 articles on GMOs were pumped out within the month. Biotech advocates swung into action. According to a leaked document obtained by The Independent on Sunday, three government ministers prepared"an astonishingly detailed strategy for spinning, and mobilizing support for" GM foods."One of [the] ministers' main concerns," said the report,"was to rubbish research by Dr. Arpad Pusztai." The ministers' campaign relied on the participation of certain scientists, including those in the Royal Society, who could voice uncompromising support for GMOs. According to the newspaper, many of these scientists, while promoted as"independent," had received compensation directly or indirect from the biotech companies. The Independent admonished the government's actions as a"a cynical public relations exercise." But the spin campaign was too little, too late. By the end of April 1999, just 10 weeks after Dr. Pusztai's gag order was lifted, the public's distrust of GMOs reached a tipping point. Use of GM ingredients had become a marketing liability. Within a single week nearly every major food company committed to stop using GMOs in Europe. Editor Threatened With his data finally returned to him, Dr. Pusztai and a colleague submitted their paper to a renowned scientific journal, The Lancet. Its editor, Richard Horton, told The Guardian,"there was intense pressure on The Lancet from all quarters, including the Royal Society, to suppress publication." The paper passed the peer review and was set to appear on October 15, 1999. On October 13, Horton received a call from a senior member of the Royal Society. According to the Guardian, Horton,"said the phone call began in a 'very aggressive manner.' He said he was called 'immoral' and accused of publishing Dr. Pusztai's paper which he 'knew to be untrue.' Towards the end of the call Dr. Horton said the caller told him that if he published the Pusztai paper it would 'have implications for his personal position' as editor." Although Horton declined to name the caller, the Guardian"identified him as Peter Lachmann, the former vice-president and biological secretary of the Royal Society and president of the Academy of Medical Sciences." Lachmann had been one of the co-signers on the Royal Society's open letter attacking Pusztai. He also had extensive financial ties to the biotech industry. In spite of his threats, The Lancet went forward with publication. Courage, Integrity, and the Public's Right to Know In the years since this controversy, Dr. Pusztai has given more than 200 lectures around the world on GMOs. He has been commissioned by the German government, academic publications, and others to do comprehensive analyses of GMO safety studies. In 2005, he received the Whistleblower Award from the Federation of German Scientists (VDW). And in 2009, he and his wife, Dr. Susan Bardocz—also an expert on GMO safety and formerly of the Rowett Institute—were presented with the Stuttgart Peace Prize for their tireless advocacy for independent risk research, as well as their courage, scientific integrity, and their undaunted insistence on the public's right to know the truth. In 2008, on the tenth anniversary of his TV show, Dr. Pusztai reflected: "On this anniversary I have to admit that, unfortunately, not much has changed since 1998. In one of the few sentences I said in my broadcast ten years ago, I asked for a credible GM testing protocol to be established that would be acceptable to the majority of scientists and to people in general. 10 years on we still haven't got one. . . "All of us asked for independent, transparent and inclusive research into the safety of GM plants, and particularly those used in foods. There is not much sign of this either. There are still 'many opinions but very few data;' less than three dozen peer-reviewed scientific papers have been published describing the results of work relating to GM safety that could actually be regarded as being of an academic standard; and the majority of even these is from industry-supported labs. . ." Although pro-GM governments and the biotech industry continue ignore the mounting evidence of harm, there is now a movement among many medical doctors, scientists, and the public, to reject GM food, create a tipping point of consumer rejection against them in North America, and put GMOs back into the laboratory where they belong. I describe Dr. Pusztai's story in more detail in the first chapter of Seeds of Deception; his findings are also featured among the 65 documented health risks of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in my book Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods. New Website, Old Lies Earlier this year, GMO advocates Bruce Chassy and David Tribe launched an attack site against Genetic Roulette. As part of their attempt to defend the safety of GMOs, they assail Dr. Pusztai's work by reiterating the same faulty, self-contradicting arguments that were made during the smear campaign. See Part 2 of this article, where their misleading arguments are exposed. This is the first in a series of point-by-point rebuttals to their website's allegations.