Mutant GE Potatoes Pose Health Hazards
(Following articles are:
UK research queries safety of genetic food
Nigel Hawkes on new evidence about dangers of genetically modified food)
British Minister rejects calls for genetic food ban
London Guardian (U.K.) Aug. 10, 1998
Immune system damage in tests
By Tim Radford, Science Editors
The row over genetically engineered foods took a new twist yesterday
as the Government refused to ban them after tests showed they could
damage the immune systems of rats and stunt their growth.
The Tory health spokesman, Alan Duncan, yesterday talked of "massive
consumer suspicion" after a television programme last night reported
that rats at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen had eaten
genetically modified potatoes for 100 days, and suffered stunted
growth and damage to their immune systems - and questioned the safety
of other products.
The Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, Norman Baker, said the
results "show that we have become the guinea pigs in a gigantic
The food minister, Jeff Rooker, turned down calls for an immediate ban
but insisted that the Government would have an "ultra-cautionary"
However, Labour MP Ian Gibson, a member of the Commons Science and
Technology Committee, said he was worried by the findings of the
Rowett Institute and called on the Government to act. Dr Gibson said
ministers should consider calling a moratorium on the sale of
genetically modified (GM) products while more tests were carried out.
Derek Burke, a former government adviser on food technology, said
calls for a moratorium on GM foods were "an over-reaction."
Philip James, director of the Rowett Institute, said the experiment
was only one of many specifically concerned with the safety of
potential new foods, none of which were available commercially.
There are only four genetically modified foods on sale in Britain -
tomato paste, vegetarian cheese, maize and soya.
Although environmentalists are worried about the threat of
"superweeds", triggered by the arrival of herbicide-resistant crops,
the latest row is over research into the genes that naturally protect
crops from attack by insects and worms. Arpad Pusztai of the Rowett
Institute took a genetically engineered potato containing a protein
from a South American bean, and fed it to rats in the laboratory.
Later, he told the World In Action TV programme: "We are assured this
is absolutely safe, and that no conceivable harm could come to us from
eating it. But if you gave me the choice now, I wouldn't eat it."
Monday August 10, 7:28 PM
UK research queries safety of genetic food
LONDON, Aug 10 (Reuters) - Genetically modified potatoes can damage the
immune systems of rats,
according to British research released on Monday that calls into
question the safety of the new food
Professor Arpad Puztai of Aberdeen's Rowett Inistitute said he had fed
five rats on genetically modified (GM) potatoes that carried genes from
the snowdrop and jackbean for 110 days -- equivalent to 10 years in
His research showed that the rats suffered from slightly stunted growth
and were more likely to be vulnerable to disease.
It was thought to be the first time that trials of GM food had showed
Puztai said his results meant that genetically modified crops should be
tested much more rigorously before being cleared for human consumption.
"We are assured that this is absolutely safe and that no harm can come
to us from eating it. But if you gave me the choice now, I wouldn't eat
it," he said.
"We need to be far more careful in devising testing programmes. It is
expensive, it is long, but nevertheless it is the only way that you will
be able to pick up differences.
"We are asking for less haste and more testing," Puztai told BBC radio.
Britain's agriculture ministry said genetically modified potatoes had
not been approved for human
consumption in Britain, although soya and other some other GM products
have been on sale for about two years.
The particular strain of GM potato used in Puztai's experiments are not
thought to be sold commercially
anywhere in the world.
Monsanto Co (MTC.N), the multinantional agro-chemical group that is
among the pioneers of the new food technology, said on Monday that all
genetically modified food currently on sale around the world was safe
and had undergone rigorous trials.
"The safety, both environmentally and the human health safety of these
crops, has been well documented. There have been more than 25,000 field
trials conducted on 60 different crops in 45 different coutries around
the world...and not any one of the regulatory agencies in those
countries has said that there is a safety issue," a Monsanto spokesman
told BBC radio.
Monsanto is currently spending 1 million pounds ($1.6 million) on an
advertising campaign in Britain to
promote the benefits of the new technology, which it says will make food
more plentiful and reduce the need for chemicals in farming.
"Some of the most brilliant scientific minds of our time have reviewed
these things and have agreed...We
believe there are very real benefits to this technology." the Monsanto
But many Britons are either sceptical or anxious about meddling with
nature to produce food. More than 40 of the 300 experimental sites
growing genetically modified trial crops have been torn up or damaged in
the past six months by environmental campaigners.
Britain's Prince Charles, himself an organic farmer, fuelled the debate
in June with a warning that genetic engineering of food "takes mankind
into realms that belong to God and God alone".
The Times August 10 1998
Nigel Hawkes on new evidence about dangers of
genetically modified food
Gene potatoes damage rats' immune systems
GENETICALLY modified potatoes can damage the
immune systems of rats, a research project in
Aberdeen has discovered.
Professor Arpad Puztai, of the Rowett Research
Institute, will say on tonight's World in Action on
ITV that he will not eat genetically-modifed crops
until they have undergone at least as exhaustive a
trial. "If I had the choice I would certainly not eat it
until I see at least comparable experimental
evidence," he says.
The trials have been carried out on potatoes carrying
genes from both the snowdrop and the jackbean. The
genes are responsible for producing proteins called
lectins, which protect the parent plants from aphid
and nematode attack. Potatoes resistant to these pests
could be valuable.
But lectins are known to damage immune-system
cells, so the feeding experiments with rats were
designed to see if the damage occurred when the
lectins were present in the potatoes. In the case of the
snowdrop lectin, no such effect was observed, but the
jackbean lectin did suppress the immune system.
The feeding trial went on for 110 days, equivalent to
ten years in human terms. The result, he said,
emphasised the need for proper trials of all modified
"If you start with the idea that a gene isn't toxic, and
just go through the motions, you won't find
anything," he said. "But that isn't good enough. You
have to really demonstrate that there are no harmful
effects. Our modified potatoes will only be released
after such tests have been completed, and I can tell
you that the one with the jackbean gene in it will not
be released at all."
The potatoes were produced in a study funded by the
Scottish Office Agriculture, Fisheries and
Environment Department. The Liberal Democrat
environment spokesman, Norman Baker, who
disclosed last week that genetically modified food
had been taken off the menu at the House of
Commons, said: "We have become the guinea pigs in
a gigantic experiment. The Government has been
irresponsible and spineless in allowing GM foods
into our diet without demanding to see definitive
proof that it is safe. The only proper thing to do now
is to ban GM ingredients."
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Agriculture,
Fisheries and Food said no genetically modified
potatoes had yet been approved for human
consumption in Britain.