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Monday, March 8, 1999 Published at 19:56 GMT

UK Politics

GM-row scientist 'would do it again'

Rats were fed potatoes modified with a gene from the snowdrop

The scientist at the centre of a row over the safety of genetically-modified food has said he would raise concern about his experiments again if he had to.

Dr Arpad Pusztai, a former researcher at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, was giving evidence to the Commons Science and Technology Committee

He became embroiled in a major political row after he aired concerns about the results of his experiments on ITV's World In Action programme last year.

[ image: Dr Pusztai:
Dr Pusztai: "There ought to be concern"
The 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.

Dr Pusztai was accused of confusing the results and releasing data not yet in the public domain.

The scientist told MPs the tests had not been carried out on a commercial basis but the results had raised concerns.

He said: "What we had to put over, and I think I probably did it too well, looking at it now, based on our experience, there ought to be a concern.

"When you say there is a concern they will probe into it what is this concern."

Dr Pusztai said he was not sufficiently famous for anyone to take notice of him.

He told the committee that on the basis of experiments where it was possible to see some affects on the growth, the immune system and organ weights of rats "you have to say something".

Dr Pusztai went on: "You feel frustrated, you have to do something about it".

The scientist admitted he had been naive but said he would do the same thing again.

He said: "I would contest that what I found essentially it certainly gave me a concern and it was very much shared by the institute this concern.

"In one sense what I achieved is that we are all sitting here and talking about it."

Gagging claims

Also giving evidence to the committee was the head of the Rowett Research Institute Professor Philip James.

Dr Pusztai described how Professor James wrote to him giving his guidelines on "what he could or could not do" following the controversy.

[ image: Professor Philip James: Denied bowing to Whitehall pressure]
Professor Philip James: Denied bowing to Whitehall pressure
He said he did not know of any other scientist sacked and gagged in this way.

"It was a real shock to me," he told the committee.

Dr Pusztai continued: "This business of me going in on the programme was very much a part of the normal of publicity you get nowadays. You have to raise money."

Professor James, in his evidence to the committee, said Dr Pusztai was not sacked or retired with a gagging clause.

There was confusion in his group to what studies had been conducted and outrage among his collaborators, said Professor James.

He denied that pressure from Whitehall or the Cabinet Office led to Dr Pusztai's contract not being renewed.

The issue had shown the scientific world had underestimated the extreme anxiety about food safety, said Professor James.

He told the committee: "We're in a new dimension relating to public health and safety."

The public were terrified about something they had no control about, Professor James went on.

There had to be pro-active initiative to developing novel science to enhance public confidence, he said.

His opinion was that in the future GM foods would be prevalent in the food chain.

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