ROYAL SOCIETY - PUSZTAI STATEMENTS DISCUSSED IN ACS PUBLICATION (THE VORTEX)
In the April edition of The Vortex, the monthly publication of the California Section of the American Chemical Society (ACS), it's editor published an opinion piece on Genetically Modified Organisms that made reference to the work of Dr Arpad Pusztai.
Following publication, the editor received a scathing attack on the piece he'd published, which drew mainly on the statements and actions of the Royal Society in relation to Pusztai. This attack, by Dr Igor Sobolev, concluded, "It's a good idea to select one's sources with care, and if the topic is science, to get all the facts. If the subject is ecological activism, on the other hand, readers should be warned."
Dr Sobolev's attack was published in the May edition of The Vortex. The June edition contained a reply to Dr Sobolev from Dr Pusztai, and from Louis Rigali, the editor of The Vortex. These exchanges are reproduced below, in reverse chronological order.
The exchanges bring out the irony of Dr Sobolev's conclusion about the need to select one's sources with care, and "if the topic is science, to get all the facts." Dr Pusztai shows, for example, that an apparently authoritative statement by the Royal Society, which Dr Sobolev quotes, (to the effect that follow up research to Dr Pusztai's has "...now been completed and no adverse effects have been found") is, in reality, referenced not to a piece of primary research but to an opinion piece (as it happens, by two well-known GM proponents). The claim in the opinion piece is supported by reference to two pieces of research:
* the first unpublished ( - it will be remembered that the Royal Society and its current President were to the fore in the vilificaton of Dr Pusztai over comments he made about his research findings prior to peer-reviewed publication).
*the second published but, as Dr Pusztai notes, "in a very obscure Japanese Journal" and so severely flawed as to make the drawing of scientifically valid conclusions from its findings impossible.
Dr Pusztai concludes, "This whole business just shows up the total scientific void that exists in the minds of the Royal Society's working group. What a mess! As a scientist working and publishing in this field (now I have chalked up 294 peer-reviewed scientific papers) I blush and feel embarrassed by this catastrophic absence of science in a body which is supposed to be the pinnacle of British science."
The editor in his reply to Dr Sobolev comments, "I find it incredulous and unscientific that [a Royal Society] statement concerning safety can be made on the basis of extremely little research and data on the short-term effects and with no data on the long-term effect of GM foods... This is our food supply we are talking about."
1. Letter to the Editor.... A reply - Arpad Pusztai, JUNE 2002
2. The Editor replies to Dr. Igor Sobolev - Louis A. Rigali, JUNE 2002
3. Letter to the Editor - Igor Sobolev, MAY 2002
4. Genetically Modified Organisms: opinion piece, APRIL 2002
All the 2002 editions of The Vortex can be downloaded as pdfs from the
California ACS site:
1. Letter to the Editor.... A reply - Arpad Pusztai
AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY CALIFORNIA SECTION
VOLUME LXIII, NUMBER 6, JUNE 2002.
Letter to the Editor.... A reply to Genetically Modified Organisms
As regards to the letter writer (Igor Sobolev) in the May 2002 Vortex, he is quite disingenuous. In the third paragraph he says "a public controversy in Scotland in 1998 that ended with the conclusion that none of the claims were scientifically justified." Who ended it as such? I have not seen any peer-reviewed publication showing that our data and the Lancet paper was scientifically faulty.
As Richard Horton, the Lancet editor said (The Lancet 354, 1729) in his conclusion piece: "Stanley Ewen and Arpad Pusztai's research letter was published on grounds of scientific merit as well as public interest. Four out of six invited reviewers recommended the publication after revision on scientific grounds, one argued the public interest case, and one voted against publication. In the face of such clear support the 'irresponsible' action... would have been to suppress publication. A debate about the science...has now begun". And then it goes on in a very unflattering manner to the Royal Society's actions.
Incidentally, the Royal Society has not seen and even less refereed our Lancet paper (unless they illegally obtained a copy of our paper draft; some of our referees were Fellows of the Royal Society). The only thing the Royal Society refereed was the edited (by the Rowett Institute) version of our confidential data and that was against my wishes.
Your letter writer admits that „No further studies with Genetically Modified (GM) potatoes have apparently been published in a refereed journal since then.‰ I can certainly confirm that, although the Royal Society in May 1999 made quite a bit of noise of calling for the repeat of our work with better design and methods. We have been waiting for such ever since. So what are these "Closely related studies that have been carried out with other crops" that Dr. Sobolev implies contradict the data in my report? For a start, these are extrapolations from studies carried out with sweet peppers and tomatoes or soya. What has that to do with potatoes?
But, according to the Royal Society these studies "...have now been completed and no adverse effects have been found". Their reference is to an Opinion paper (and not a primary paper of new work) in Nature Reviews Genetics by Gasson and Burke which, when one reads (please, do just that), one finds that the sweet pepper and tomato work is unpublished and submitted to an unnamed journal.
One can hardly expect the average scientific reader to be impressed by this as the ultimate proof in support of the Royal Society‚ thesis. The GM soya study's findings (in a very obscure Japanese Journal) have been severely criticized because the small rats and mice which have been fed for 105 days on GM soya or control soya diets have not grown and thus the study is so unphysiological that one cannot make any scientifically valid conclusions for anything from it.
This whole business just shows up the total scientific void that exists in the minds of the Royal Society's working group. What a mess! As a scientist working and publishing in this field (now I have chalked up 294 peer-reviewed scientific papers) I blush and feel embarrassed by this catastrophic absence of science in a body which is supposed to be the pinnacle of British science. Incidentally, I wrote a letter to them to emphasize these points.
"The moral of all this?" asks the writer. So can I! I have given you
facts and I would like if Dr. Sobolev did reveal his credentials and track
record. I am an independent scientist and have no connections to any parties,
NGOs or industry. Additional information can be obtained at the following
2. The Editor replies to Dr. Igor Sobolev
AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY CALIFORNIA SECTION
VOLUME LXIII, NUMBER 6, JUNE 2002.
The Editor replies
The editor thanks Dr. Sobolev for bringing to our attention the controversy over the Pusztai report on the harmful effects of genetically modified (GM) potatoes. In the process of checking the references he provided and others, I have learned a lot more about this field, and the potential effects of incorporating GM foodstuffs into our daily diet. I accept that Dr. Sobolev did not like the format of the April Vortex article, but his comments went much further. A response to his charge on the accuracy of supporting evidence is discussed elsewhere in this issue by Dr. Arpud Pusztai, the author of "the potato report" who was the target of Sobolev's critical comments. I do not know how to respond to Dr. Sobolev's warning about "ecological activism", because I am not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing. Let me share some of the things that I did find.
First, An update from the Royal Society. A full statement can be obtained by going to their website (http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/news/index.html) "Safety checks for GM foods must be better, says Royal Society. Safety assessments should be improved before a greater variety of foods made from genetically modified plants are declared fit for human consumption, a Royal Society report warns today (4 February 2002).
The report concludes that there is no reason to doubt the safety of foods made from GM ingredients that are currently available, nor to believe that genetic modification makes foods inherently less safe than their conventional counterparts. However, the report calls for the tightening of regulations for all novel foods, particularly with respect to allergy testing and the nutritional content of infant formula.
I find it incredulous and unscientific that the above statement concerning
safety can be made on the basis of extremely little research and data on
the short-term effects and with no data on the long-term effect of GM foods.
(www.actionbioscience.org/biotech/altieri.html#authorbio).This is our food supply we are talking about. Which one of us is practicing ecological radicalism?
Second, there continues to be little or no funding for independent or even commercial studies. In over three years no additional study has been done as recommend by The Royal Society on the work of Pusztai published in the Lancet. Why is funding from government or industry not available?
Finally, while there is some discussion on the need for testing, the emphasis seems to be on the development of techniques and tools to isolate those agents and chemicals that are present in GM foods. The question, however, is "What does one look for?" A more appropriate line of research is to follow a protocol using animals to determine if there are significant nutritional or toxic effects on the animals, whether or not the mass spectrogram shows any differences!
3. Letter to the Editor - Igor Sobolev
AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY CALIFORNIA SECTION
VOLUME LXIII, NUMBER 5 MAY 2002.
Letter to the Editor....Genetically Modified Organisms
I enjoy reading The Vortex and find most of its contents interesting and sensible, but was puzzled when I came to the article on GMOs on page 13 of the April 2002 issue. Was it a book review, a science summary, an opinion piece, or a letter to the editor? There was a brief discussion of gene transfer methods, followed by a list of potential and real side effects, all of them harmful. The last paragraph about the toxicity of GM potatoes to rats was particularly troublesome. More on that later. I finally decided it fell somewhere between an opinion piece and a letter to the editor. Since many readers may assume that any scientific information presented in The Vortex is reliable, I would like to suggest opinion pieces be labeled as such in the future. That way readers will not mistake opinions for scientific reviews.
My other recommendation is for authors of such articles to present their supporting evidence accurately. I am referring to the GM potato issue in the last paragraph. The Vortex article states that "...results showing labo-ratory rats that were fed genetically engineered potatoes had severe problems with their digestive tracts, immune responses, and the development of nearly all their vital organs. Their brains, hearts, livers, spleens etc. were all significantly reduced in size, and many of the endocrine glands were enlarged. Some of this data was published in the prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet."
To make a long story short (due to editorial space limitations), the above quote represented the beginnings of a public controversy in Scotland in 1998 that ended with the con-clusion that none of the claims were scientifically justified. The authors made their claims to the media and the government, long before their paper was published. In 1999 a Royal Society report discredited the study because of poor experimental design, inappropriate statistics, and other deficiencies.
The Lancet paper reported only some of the harmful effects listed in the above quote. It was accompanied by an apologetic editorial as well as scientific objections, and was followed by further criticisms by the press and other researchers. No further studies with GM potatoes have apparently been published in a refereed journal since then.
Closely related studies, recommended in the 1999 Royal Society report, have been carried out with other crops, however. According to a very recent Royal Society update, "Such studies, on the results of feeding GM sweet peppers and GM tomatoes to rats, and GM soya to mice and rats, have now been completed and no adverse effects have been found."
The moral of all this? It's a good idea to select one's sources with care, and if the topic is science, to get all the facts. If the subject is ecological activism, on the other hand, readers should be warned.
newsid_279000/279714.stm (February 15, 1999).
Ibid., /newsid_464000/464416.stm (October 4, 1999).
The Royal Society, "Review of data on possible toxicity of GM potatoes", June 1999; www.royalsoc.ac.uk/policy/index.html
Stanley W.B. Ewen and Arpad Pusztai, Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine, The Lancet, 354, 1353-1354 (October 16, 1999) Available as a.pdf file at www.the lancet.com.
Richard Horton,ibid.,p.1314-1315 Ibid.,p.1315-1316.
htt p:// news. bbc. co. uk/ hi/ englis h/sci/tech/ newsi d_474000/ 474978.st m ( October15, 1999). Correspondence, The Lancet, 354, 1725-1729 (November 13, 1999).
The Royal Society, "Genetically modified plants for food use and human health - an update" (February 2002); www.royalsoc.ac.uk/policy/index.html.
M.Gasson and D. Burke, Scientific perspectives on regulating the safety of genetically modified foods, Nature Reviews Genetics 2, 217-222 (2001)
4. Genetically Modified Organisms: opinion piece
AMERICAN CHEMICAL SOCIETY, CALIFORNIA SECTION
THE VORTEX, VOLUME LXIII, NUMBER 4 APRIL 2002
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)
Genetic engineering involves the artificial transfer of genetic material, or DNA, usually between unrelated species of plants, animals, bacteria, viruses, and humans. Commonly both biological and electrochemical methods are used for gene transfer. Plasmids, which are small loops of DNA outside their main chromosomes, were first used in transferring DNA. Later, bacteria were used to infect plant cells. Genetically engineered viruses were first used in mammalian cells. Newer techniques utilize a "gene gun" which shoots high-speed projectiles of gold or tungsten that are coated with the DNA fragments of choice. Genetic engineering different from what takes place in nature, or natural breeding occurs with a species or across species that have very close evolutionary histories. Genetic engineering completely overrides these natural constraints. In addition with genetically engineered species, the genes are randomly inserted into a new location in the genome. The various molecular checks and balances that exist to facilitate a gene's proper expression aren't overridden by traditional breeding. In contrast, they are overridden by genetic engineering. That's why you get some of the bizarre effects that have been reported.
For example, there were early attempts to get pigs to express human growth hormone, in the hope of raising pigs with leaner meat. Instead scientists found themselves with experimental pigs whose whole metabolism and organ development was so distorted that they could barely stand up, were cross-eyed, and couldn't live normal lives, even though the only change intended was to add the one gene that coded for human growth hormone
Very little research has been conducted on the long term effects of GMOs. We do know that the likelihood of unexpected allergic reactions and increased levels of toxins in food is very high. Millions of dollars of genetically engineered corn were recently pulled off the market (taco shell) because a particular toxin gene spliced in from bacteria makes a protein that was seen as likely to cause allergies in humans. Even the generally industry-friendly scientists at the EPA agreed that there was a problem.
There's also a problem with antibiotic resistance. Since the success rates of experiments in genetic engineering are so minuscule, they have to use a so-called "marker gene" to see which cells actually took up the foreign DNA. These markers are usually antibiotic resistance genes - so that cells with no foreign DNA are killed by antibiotic treatment.
The British Medical Association declared in 1999 that the practice of using antibiotic resistance genes should cease because antibiotic resistance could be passed on to pathogens in our digestive tract. But it hasn‚t ceased at all. Again in Britain, results showing laboratory rats that were fed genetically engineered potatoes had severe problems with their digestive tracts, immune responses, and the development of nearly all their vital organs. Their brains, hearts, livers, spleens, etc. were all significantly reduced in size, and many of the endocrine glands were enlarged. Some of this data was published in the prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet.
Redesigning Life? The Worldwide Challenge to Genetic Engineering, Brian Tokar, Zed Books, and interview material by Mark Oshinskie with Brian Tokar.
Editor's note: The Vortex offers to publish the opinion and comments
of guest writers. Please send, in digital format, to LR101898@aol.com
Material submitted may be edited to meet space requirements.
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