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Saturday, March 6, 1999 Published at 00:22 GMT


Sci/Tech

GM-row scientist 'misrepresented'

Dr Arpad Pusztai wants to be heard

The scientist at the centre of the row over genetically-modified (GM) food has told the BBC he is "enthusiastic" about the technology.

Far from being opposed to the new bioengineering techniques, Dr Arpad Pusztai believes the technology can be made to work - provided it is properly tested.

Dr Pusztai was until recently a researcher at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen. He has become embroiled in a major political row after he aired concerns about the results of his experiments.


Dr Pusztai talks to Science Reporter Pallab Ghosh
The Hungarian-born scientist fed potatoes modified with a gene from the snowdrop to rats. The gene produces a chemical that can be toxic.

It has been claimed the animals used in one experiment showed slight growth retardation, an effect on the immune system and changes in the weight of their internal organs.

Political row

His concerns have been seized on by green campaigners who believe transgenic crops are dangerous to both human health and the environment. They want the UK Government to ban or significantly delay their introduction.


[ image: The scientist is about to go before a Commons committee]
The scientist is about to go before a Commons committee
The row has even cost Dr Pusztai his job at the Rowett. The institute suspended him shortly after he spoke out and then refused to renew his contract.

Dr Pusztai says his views have been misrepresented - by both anti-GM campaigners who claim to support him and by some of the biotechnologists who have attacked him.

On Monday, he will, for the first time, give a full account of his side of the story when he goes before the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee.

He will not say in advance what he plans to tell the MPs. However, in an exclusive interview with the BBC's Science Reporter Pallab Ghosh, Dr Pusztai has spoken about furore that has surrounded him in the last few months.

(PG)Dr Pusztai, can you tell me how you feel about how events have unravelled?

(AP) I don't know in what respect you want that question answered. I think obviously I was not very pleased before, but since we're coming up to these events I'm becoming a bit more relaxed. Perhaps now I may even have a chance of proving my point.


[ image: The potatoes contained a gene from the snowdrop]
The potatoes contained a gene from the snowdrop
(PG) A lot of your scientific colleagues feel that you were badly treated, that you weren't allowed to have freedom of expression. Do you feel that?

(AP) Well that is an obvious point. I mean I can't really understand the reason for it. I think that once you are beginning to tamper with scientists not being able to speak about what they find ... I mean most scientists have a fair social conscience and will not be just scaremongering. They just like to get their point put over. And I expect I was no different in that respect.

(PG) Your work has been used by a lot of people campaigning against the introduction of genetically-modified food to suggest that these foods are in some way unsafe. Is that your view?

(AP) No, I never made that point myself. I was quite enthusiastic ... in fact I am still quite enthusiastic about the technology. It can be made to work, I am sure it can be made to work. The best way to make it work is if we pay attention to all the testing - because that is the crux of it. That was my original point and I still stick to that.


[ image: Dr Pusztai was suspended after he spoke out]
Dr Pusztai was suspended after he spoke out
(PG) Because a lot of people don't appreciate the fact that the whole programme was designed to develop better testing methods.

(AP) Yes, I think that was part of all the misinformation. It is not necessarily deliberate, it's just simply that people think that what is in their mind is the most important thing - so for that reason they think I am thinking along those lines.

This project has been given to us. We won it in a fair competition. It was designed to test and introduce new testing technologies which then - if they are found to be good - might be accepted and introduced into the general regulatory process.

So this was really testing, not pronouncing or prejudging the issue. First we want to get the techniques right, and then those testing techniques may be used to look at all the genetically-modified crops. That was the point.

(PG) Are you confident you will win the scientific argument in the end?

I hope so, but nothing is ever sure in this life. I am trying to do my best to win the argument and I am very hopeful that eventually it will be accepted.





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