Rowett Research Institute, Greenburn Road, Bucksburn, Aberdeen AB21 9SB, GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOODS

  • Contact: Megan Matthews
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This week's intense and global publicity given to Dr. Pusztai's work and its implications has led to the Rowett Research Institute's decision to carry out a fully audited analysis of the data before they are presented to MAFF and EU Committees dealing with the issue of the safety of genetically modified foods. This field is of exceptional importance to the public.

The Directors and the Senior Manager involved were therefore presented yesterday with a preliminary view of the primary laboratory data by Dr. Eva Gelencser, the member of the team who carried out the studies on immune responsiveness under the supervision of Dr. Pusztai. She had returned to the Institute from abroad yesterday morning. By late yesterday it emerged that the relevant data provided by Dr. Pusztai referred not to experimental studies on potatoes with transgenic Con A but to GNA transgenic potatoes. The detailed analyses on the transgenic GNA studies are due to be completed by Friday of this week and were not data, as originally suggested, which had been discussed extensively at scientific meetings involving UK collaborators and the Scottish Office in April of this year. All the preparations for the transgenic Con A feeding trials are complete but the only data available on Con A are, in practice, the long-term studies with Con A added to the potato based diets.

This morning the Director suspended Dr. Pusztai from all responsibility for Institute, UK and European studies on these issues and Dr. Pusztai will now retire from the Institute. Dr. Andrew Chesson, a member of the EU's DG XXIV's working party on the safety of genetically modified foods will be put in charge of all data analyses and presentations to MAFF and the EU. Dr. Chesson will work in conjunction with a molecular biologist, Dr. Harry Flint, who has not previously been directly involved in this work. Collaborating Institutions will be asked to nominate an expert to audit the work.

The original decision by the Institute to allow Dr. Pusztai to respond to the "World in Action" request for information was based on the Institute's recognition of its responsibility not to suppress scientific views of importance in this, or any other, field. It was recognised and agreed that previously published concepts relating to the use of lectins as transgenics could be discussed but that it was improper to present data which had not been publicly scrutinised by a variety of international experts and published. Senior Managers and special staff with responsibility for scientific issues of public interest were assigned to ensure that this agreement was adhered to. It is therefore regrettable that discussions with the media at other times led to the presentation of information which misled everybody concerned.

The long and complex studies on the use of lectins in transgenic plants, including published as well as unpublished work, will now be reviewed to ensure the validity of the findings. The GNA transgenic studies and comparable experiments on diets where both GNA and Con A have been added to the potato mix will be collated for urgent transmission to MAFF and the EU. This morning it would be premature to conclude whether or not there are data of concern to those assessing the safety of foods with transgenic lectins. The analysis of these new findings will not be released by the Institute but will be scrutinised by collaborating groups of scientists and official expert committees. The Institute will also arrange to do appropriate additional studies on these safety issues once the significance of the current findings is clear.

The Institute regrets the release of misleading information about issues of such importance to the public and the scientific community.

The Rowett Research Institute is an independent government sponsored institution for nutrition and has a range of research concerned with assessing the risk of genetically modified foods. The Institute has the responsibility to help develop new and better approaches to the risk of genetically modified foods. The Institute's staff recognise the great potential value of genetically modified foods and collaborate with a wide range of scientists, companies and governments around the world in helping to assess the value and safety of such products.

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