ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

From Dr Arpad Pusztai:

Dear Jonathan,

Obviously Dr Morton regards himself an authority on everything concerning GM crops and food.  Unfortunately, I have no recollections of major contributions by him to nutrition but perhaps he may enlighten me on his track record one day.  Meanwhile, I shall limit  myself only to dealing with the part of his long contribution that I have some competence in.

First, let us get this GM pea study out of the way.  I am very grateful that somebody has eventually discovered this paper of ours in Journal of Nutrition.  I was beginning to think that although we have done this work at the request of his fellow Australian scientists such as T.J. Higgins, they and everybody else may have forgotten about this paper.  I am very grateful to Morton to bring it to people's attention.  He even took the trouble to give the abstract of the paper (though leaving some bits out), although he was somewhat coy about the authors and not mentioned that three of them were Australians [Dr Morton is Australian].  Perhaps, it would have been embarrassing for them to be associated with a "disgraced scientist" such as myself.  Just as a matter of  completeness I want to make three comments about this paper of relatively early work from our laboratory of which, as a matter of record, I am quite proud of:

1.  This was a straightforward nutritional study without any histology or immunology.  As such this was published in The Journal of Nutrition (USA), one of the top nutritional journals of the world.  Not bad, is it?  By the way, had we been allowed to continue with our research at the next stage we would have extended these nutritional studies to include gut histology (the main target tissue of any food) and measurements on gut and humoral immune responsiveness.  A very important point to make here is that the design of the GM pea study was exactly the same as that of our GM potato work which according to the Royal
Society was flawed in design, execution etc.  Perhaps what may have had something to do with the difference in the proper appreciation of our work by the two bodies was that the peer-review of our paper at the Journal of Nutrition was done by proper nutritional experts while none of the six members of  the RS Working Group had firsthand experience in nutrition.

2.  Any proper nutritionist or gastroenterologist reading our GM pea paper would have picked out one of the main glaring reasons for the similarity in the nutritional value of conventional and GM peas included in the rat diet at 30% (but not at 65% inclusion level).  We have shown and described in the paper that because the product of the alpha-amylase inhibitor gene transferred from kidney bean (one of the main and stable antinutrients in beans), became unstable in the gastrointestinal tract and rapidly broke down, the main reason for the difference between the GM and non-GM peas disappeared.   This shows the importance of case-by-case animal testing because, as it so happened, in this case the experiments showed that in exceptional cases one hits the jackpot even
with some GM crops.  Quite in contrast, GNA (the snowdrop bulb lectin) in GM potatoes did not break down in the gut which shows that the gene product MUST be isolated from the GM plant (and not as an E. coli recombinant) and this must be tested in vivo and not in  spurious in vitro simulated assays.  Moreover, there is a general message here too: the scientist must report his findings as he finds them and not what he/she thinks that he/she ought to have found.  We reported the problems with our GM potatoes because there were problems with them and not for ideological reasons and the same happened with our findings with GM peas; we reported our results as they were found.

3.  Finally, I want to quote the last two sentences from our paper without any further comment that somehow escaped Morton's attention:
"However, this nutritional study with transgenic peas expressing alpha-amylase inhibitor cannot at this stage be taken as proof that transgenic peas are fit for human consumption.  This may be established only with the use of further and more specific risk assessment testing procedures, which must be designed and developed with human consumers in mind".

There is one more comment that relates to our GM potato work.  Morton says that these potatoes were not in the process of commercialization and have not been continued with.  I am afraid, he is wrong.  The potatoes which we used as a model of GM food in our studies had been developed by an English biotech company, Cambridge Agricultural Genetics, later called Axis Genetics.  They had been field-grown at Rothamstead and were very much to be commercialized.  In fact, the Rowett and Axis Genetics had already drawn up a profit-sharing agreement for this commercialization.  True, this was not continued with.  Perhaps
the main reason for this was our work.  Incidentally, the company has since gone bankrupt and, according to people in the know, the GNA patent has been bought up by Novartis.

The second thing I am going to comment on (again because of my particular expertise in this field) is the very "impressive" list of references in support of Morton's claim that GM "food has been tested and it is a lie to suggest it has not".  Just look at the bibliography! Morton further claimed that the recent article in Science by Domingo is IN FACT WRONG.  This Spanish scientist could only find 7 papers on GM food in peer-reviewed literature after going through practically all the scientific data bases in a computer-aided search and therefore he at the end commented that there were "many opinions but few data".  However, Morton did not give his opinion why this scientist was wrong, whether he was incompetent or just lied.  Rather interestingly, Domingo never said
that GM was good, bad or indifferent, he just pleaded with the companies and scientists to publish their papers on this so important topic in peer-reviewed journals.

Coming to Morton's list of 56 papers referred to in his bibliography I very much hope that his science is better and more precise than his list.  This is the breakdown of peer-reviewed articles:

1.  Nutritional studies:  2 papers.  Nos. 2 and 10 in his list. However, paper no. 10 must be so good that he quotes it three times, in his list: nos. 10, 19 and 33.

2.  Toxicology: 1 paper;  again it must be good because it is quoted twice: nos. 18 and 34.  Incidentally, as in the paper they tested an  E. coli recombinant form of the gene product, the results cannot be accepted for the lack of toxicity for the gene product as expressed in the GM crop.

3.  Allergenicity: 1 paper; no. 22 in his list

4.  Compositional studies, not strictly relevant to nutritional studies but at least they were peer-reviewed:  6 papers; nos. 11, 15,  16, 17, 29 and 39.  Again Morton must have regarded the Monsanto study very highly because he referred to it three times:  nos. 11, 20 and 43.

This makes a total of FOUR  PEER-REVIEWED animal study papers.  It is somewhat different from the 56 claimed.  Even when one considers the 6
not truly relevant compositional papers the grand total comes to 10.  I am afraid, if Morton is a true scientist he should know that other 46 so-called papers making up the rest and the bulk of his "bibliography" would not be considered by anyone as proper peer-reviewed scientific papers.  I am afraid, Morton should have consulted Domingo's Science paper more thoroughly because he, rather interestingly, [has] not referred to some of the papers in Domingo's bibliography.  One has the suspicion that the ones which were omitted might not have been supportive of his claim, i.e. that GM foods are safe.  Also, funnily,
Morton referred to the Royal Society Report on our GM potato work (no. 52) but somehow our paper in the Lancet was left out of the list. Clearly, he is following the example of the Royal Society's conduct (what was called by the Lancet editor as "breathtaking impertinence") that one criticizes and
condemns data not to his liking but not disclosing to anyone else these data or work.

All in all, if this is the best that an enthusiastic proponent of GM foods can come up with in support of their safety we are really in trouble.

Best regards

Arpad Pusztai

Ps.  I have no objections to your putting this on your circulation list.  The more people know the objective truth about this lamentable affair of GM publications the better it is.  Hopefully, soon there will be a proper scientific review of this whole field of health effects of GM food but till then this will have to do.