GM Food: Scientists clash over tests on modified potatoes

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TWO SCIENTISTS at the centre of the controversy over genetically modified food clashed last night over crucial statements issued about the results of experiments on rats fed on GM potatoes.

Arpad Pusztai, who was suspended last year from the Rowett Research Institute, near Aberdeen, after suggesting GM food is unsafe, told the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee he had never been shown press releases about his work issued by the institute.

He said subsequent confusion in the press over what sort of lectin - plant toxins - had been used in the experiment would not have arisen if he had been able to see the press releases before they went out.

His institute said that Dr Pusztai had become confused about the "con A" lectin and another lectin from the snowdrop plant, which is why he was suspended.

Dr Pusztai's boss, Philip James, the director of the Rowett institute, told the committee Dr Pusztai had ample opportunity to correct any inaccuracies in the press releases. This contradicted Dr Pusztai's assurance to the committee that he had not seen the press releases until they had been issued.

Professor James said that Dr Pusztai had referred to experiments on the con A lectin, when these experiments had not in fact been carried out at the time of his interview on television.

"It's been quite astonishing how events have been misrepresented," Professor James said. He said that Dr Pusztai had not only seen a copy of the press release referring to the experiments but that he had rewritten a part of it.

"Dr Pusztai had actually presented information that turned out to be untrue, there was confusion in his group and his collaborators were outraged," Professor James said.

Dr Pusztai told the committee that after the television broadcast many people phoned him about the con A lectin experiment, whereas in fact he had referred only to the snowdrop lectin experiment. Dr Pusztai also said he had not seen a press release issued by World in Action, which instigated the publicity that led to his dismissal.