Smeared GM expert vindicated

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THE SCIENTIST who suggested that genetically modified foods could damage health - and was comprehensively rubbished by government ministers and the scientific establishment as a result - is to have his reputation dramatically vindicated. Britain's top medical journal, The Lancet, is shortly to publish Arpad Pusztai's research showing changes in the guts of rats fed with GM potatoes. That will reignite fears that GM foods may endanger human health.

THE SCIENTIST who suggested that genetically modified foods could damage health - and was comprehensively rubbished by government ministers and the scientific establishment as a result - is to have his reputation dramatically vindicated. Britain's top medical journal, The Lancet, is shortly to publish Arpad Pusztai's research showing changes in the guts of rats fed with GM potatoes. That will reignite fears that GM foods may endanger human health.

The Government has sought to discredit Dr Pusztai's work on the grounds that it has not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Some scientists have made similar claims and attacked it as "flawed" and unpublishable.

Publication of the article will encourage other scientists to try to repeat the experiments, leading to further scientific investigation of whether GM foods pose a threat to health. It will also vindicate the Prince of Wales, who met Dr Pusztai this summer, and told him that he had been cruelly treated.

Proofs of the article have been sent to Dr Pusztai, and his co-author Dr Stanley Ewen, senior lecturer in pathology at Aberdeen University. Late last week David McNamee, the journal's executive editor, said that it would be published "soon".

The research is important because few papers have so far been published on the health effects of GM foods, despite the rapidity with which they have spread on to supermarket shelves. Indeed Dr Pusztai, who was not available for comment on the news, began his experiments because he could find only one previous peer-reviewed study, led by a scientist from Monsanto, the GM food giant, which had found no ill-effects.

He started three years' research, funded with £1.6m from the Scottish Office, at Aberdeen's Rowett Research Institute as a "very enthusiastic supporter" of GM technology, and expected his experiments to give it "a clean bill of health".

Dr Pusztai, 68, who has published 270 papers and is acknowledged as the leading authority in his field, fed rats on three strains of genetically engineered potatoes and one ordinary one. He said last March: "I was absolutely confident I wouldn't find anything. But the longer I spent on the experiments, the more uneasy I became."

His findings sparked public concern, and ignited a row about GM foods, after he briefly mentioned them, with the institute's permission, on a television programme last year. They contradicted repeated assurances from the Prime Minister down that GM food is safe, and undermined the assumption behind the regulation of genetically altered crops that there is no substantial difference between them and their conventional equivalents.

Despite his eminence, Dr Pusztai, who came to Britain after the suppression of the 1956 Hungarian rising, underwent some of the most extraordinary treatment ever meted out to a reputable scientist, and suffered a minor heart attack. He was suspended from his work on the experiments, his computers were sealed, his data confiscated and was ostracised by his colleagues. He was forced into retirement and forbidden to discuss his work.

Sir Robert May, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, accused him of violating "every canon of scientific rectitude". The Royal Society said his work was "flawed in many aspects of design, execution and analysis". Professor Tom Sanders, of King's College London, said no major scientific journal would publish the research in its present form. Jack Cunningham, in charge of the Government's GM strategy, said Dr Pusztai's work had been "comprehensively discredited".

Dr Pusztai has consistently said he was eager to publish, and that the criticism was based on incomplete information he had put on the internet at the institute's request while unable to get full access to his confiscated data.

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