Six months ago Dr. Pusztai voiced his concern in a TV programme that present testing procedures to establish the safety of foodstuffs containing genetically modified (GM) material may not be adequate. Two days later he was suspended by the Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen, for being responsible for the release of misleading information, gagged and threatened by legal action if he spoke out in his own defence.
All his scientific data were confiscated and, to establish whether or not he had committed fraud, an Audit Committee was set up. Its remit was to investigate whether, as Dr. Pusztai claimed, the growth and immune responsiveness of rats fed diets containing GM potatoes was depressed.
Regrettably, although a Report was written on the conclusion made by the Audit Committee, this has only been discussed by selected people in line with the Rowett's original intention that "these new findings will not be released by the Institute but will be scrutinized by collaborating groups of scientists and official expert committees".
Unfortunately, neither the results of the GM research nor of the Audit have been fully revealed. Instead, several months later the Rowett published a summary of the conclusions of the Audit Report which stated unequivocally that Dr. Pusztai's conclusions were not justified by his experimental data.
Those of us who have known Dr. Pusztai's work or have collaborated with him, were shocked by the harshness of his treatment by the Rowett and even more by the impenetrable secrecy surrounding these events.
It is an unacceptable code of practice by the Rowett and its Director, Professor James, to set themselves up as arbiters or judges of the validity of data which could have such a profound importance not only for scientists, but also for the public and its health.
Fortunately, to comply with the Audit rules, the Rowett had to return Dr. Pusztai's data and give him the right to comment on the Audit Report. Although the results included in this report appeared to be arbitrarily selected and biased towards brushing aside the conclusions of his experimental findings, the data contained within the Audit Report itself nevertheless showed very clearly that the transgenic GNA-potato had significant effects on immune function and this alone is sufficient to vindicate entirely Dr. Pusztai's statements.
Dr. Pusztai decided to make his response to Professor James and SOAEFDS (Scottish Office, who funded the project) in the form of an Alternative Report. However, the existence of his Report has never been acknowledged.
In the interest of transparency and to follow the tradition of scientific exchange of views and data between scientists, and to peer-review his findings before publication, a number of independent scientists approached Dr. Pusztai with the view to study his results in detail and have given us their written reviews.
The independent scientists who have reviewed Dr. Pusztai's data and case are:
The reviews written by these scientists allowed us to compare the conclusions of both the Audit and the Alternative Reports and to establish the validity of Dr. Pusztai's claims. No data will be given here but, as in any referee's report, we give our summary assessment and conclude that the data would be acceptable for scientific papers. In light of the personal harm done to Dr. Pusztai we conclude also that it is imperative to make available the reviews as well as our conclusion to the public, either as publications in scientific journals or otherwise. There is no doubt in our minds that the reviews will remove the stigma of alleged fraud and will restore Dr. Pusztai's scientific credibility.
We are of the opinion that although some of the results are preliminary, they are sufficient to exonerate Dr. Pusztai by showing that the consumption of GNA-GM-potatoes by rats led to significant differences in organ weight and depression of lymphocyte responsiveness compared to controls. There was also strong evidence that GNA-GM tubers were not substantially equivalent to parent potatoes and indeed the two lines of GNA-GM-potatoes in the study were also different. This makes a very strong case for the necessity of performing further work to elucidate the toxico-pathological importance of these findings. Unfortunately, as publication of scientific papers is a long-drawn out process, and as there is an urgent need to bring these data into the public arena right now such that the safety and hazards presented by GM crops could be properly debated and assessed, we decided to publish this Memorandum.
12 February 1999, Signed by:
E. Van Driessche
Note: The Rowett eventually published Pusztai's findings. They can be read on the Rowett Web site.