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Árpád Pusztai

Árpád Pusztai (born c. 1931) is a Hungarian-born protein scientist who has spent most of his career at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland. He is considered the world's foremost expert on plant lectins, author of 270 papers and three books on the subject.

In 1998 Pusztai publicly announced that the results of his research show eating genetically modified potato causes harm to rats, leading to his dismissal from the institute. The resulting controversy over the dismissal and the validity of his research's conclusions became known as the Pusztai affair.

GM potato controversy

Between 1995 and 1998 he performed a series of experiments on some genetically modified potatoes which had been developed by an English biotech company, Cambridge Agricultural Genetics, later called Axis Genetics. They had been field-grown at Rothamsted, and were intended for commercialisation. The potatoes were the widely grown desiree red variety, modified with a gene taken from snowdrop (Galanthus) plants, that caused the potatoes to express snowdrop lectin, a protein which Arpad Pusztai had previously shown to be toxic to insects but harmless to mammals.

Initially Pusztai and his team observed a lack of correlation between levels of the lectin in the potato leaves and their toxicity to insects. Subsequently they experimented by feeding rats on raw and cooked genetically modified potatoes, using Desiree Red potatoes as controls. One of the controls was unmodified desiree red potatoes mixed with snowdrop lectin. The rats fed on the genetically modified potatoes showed lower intestine damage and harm to their immune systems. These effects were not observed in rats fed on unmodified potatoes, or unmodified potatoes mixed with snowdrop lectin. The team concluded that the effects observed were a result of the genetic modification, not the snowdrop lectin.

The Rowett institute was initially proud of these discoveries, and encouraged Pusztai to publicise the discoveries widely. In 1998 Arpad Pusztai informed an ITV world in Action documentary that he had observed problems with the safety of GM potatoes.

On 10th October, the day that the documentary was due to be broadcast he was invited onto an early morning television debate, but informed beforehand by the Rowett institute that he was not permitted to discuss details of the experiment. A spokesman for Monsanto made false claims about the experiments, including a claim that the potatoes had been modified with toxic Jack Bean lectin, to which Arpad Pusztai could only respond "no comment". In reality, Jack_Bean lectin had not been used in the experiments. That morning, the Rowett institute received two phone calls from 10 Downing Street. [1] According to Professor Robert Orskov OBE, who worked at the Rowett for 33 years and is one of Britain's leading nutrition experts. The phone calls went from Monsanto, the American firm which produces 90% of the world's GM food, to Bill Clinton and then to Tony Blair, and then to Rowett direcor Philip James.[2]

'Clinton rang Blair and Blair rang James,' says Professor Orskov.

Phone calls to Arpad Pusztai's office were diverted, and Arpad Pusztai was suspended and legally gagged, along with his wife and colleague Dr Susan Bardocz. His data was confiscated and his team were disbanded. The potatoes were subsequently destroyed, along with all details of their modification (a commercial secret of Cambridge Agricultural Genetics, which subsequently ceased business). There followed a cover up and sustained attempts to discredit Arpad Pusztai, involving a lot of deliberate misinformation:

Initially the Rowett institute claimed that they were not doing any research on GM crops. Later the Rowett institute claimed that Arpad Pusztai had voluntarily retired, and apologised for his "mistake". According to this version of the story, the experiments had never been performed and a student had accidentally confused control data with experimental data. Later the story changed again, it was claimed that Pusztai had modified the potatoes with toxic Jack Bean lectin. Sir Robert May encouraged this myth when he told Radio 4's Today programme: "If you mix cyanide with vermouth in a cocktail and find that it is not good for you, I don't draw sweeping conclusions that you should ban all mixed drinks." Similar statements were also made by the Agriculture Minister Jack Cunningham the Rowett institute also announced that they were publishing Arpad Pusztai's data online so that the public could draw their own conclusions, but omitted much of the data making the remainder statistically meaningless.[3]

In 1999 Arpad Pusztai and Stanley Ewen published their results in The Lancet (link below). The Pro GM lobby put strong pressure on The Lancet not to publish, including a threatening phone call to The Lancet editor.[4]

See also


  1. ^ Arpad Pusztai - Personal communication
  2. ^ Daily Mail article detailling the events surrounding Arpad Pusztai's sacking
  3. ^ Arpad Pusztai - Personal communication
  4. ^ Pro-GM food scientist accused of threatening Lancet editor
  • Effect of diets containing genetically modified potatoes expressing Galanthus nivalis lectin on rat small intestine - S. W. Ewen, A. Pusztai (16 Oct 1999); Lancet 354(9187):1353 (PMID 10533866)
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Árpád_Pusztai". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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