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World Renowned Biotech Critic Arpad Pusztai Answers His Critics

GM WATCH daily

The Syngenta-backed website CheckBiotech has published an article by the
well-known Swiss biotechnology supporter, Dr Klaus Ammann, as part of the
Swiss debate over the moratorium.

According to CheckBiotech, Ammann, is "calling on heavy scientific
ammunition" to attack those supporting the moratorium. Quite a bit of that
"ammunition" is aimed at Dr Arpad Pusztai, amongst others, under headings
such as "Hysteria without reason".

Here's Dr Pusztai's reply and Dr Ammann's original article. In passing, Dr
Pusztai provides a vey interesting summary of the multiple health problems
arising from GM crops that scientific research appears to point to.

Dear Jonathan,

I understand the frustration of an all-out, almost religious, believer in GM
biotechnology, such as Klaus Amman, now that the Swiss have put a 5-year
moratorium on growing GM crops in Switzerland. I still salute the common
sense of the Swiss who, despite a huge industry-paid pro-GM campaign, came
down on the side of precaution.

You do not have to be an economic genius to see that on its present showing
this so-called "precise technology" cannot even predict the outcome of the
gene-splicing technique used in the development of GM crops. It also does
nothing for the consumer and even less for those farmers who would like to
maintain the clean green image of Switzwerland and who do not want to
squander this precious heritage handed down to them by their forefathers.

As far as the personal attacks on me are concerned, this is nothing new. I
always find that people who run out of factual arguments sooner or later
turn to trying to denigrate the scientific integrity of anyone who does not
swallow hook-line-and-sinker their arguments in favour of GM crops. As far as I am
concerned, I only respond to the, generally, scientifically questionable or
even flawed arguments they level against me or against those scientists who
prefer to read the evidence presented in peer-reviewed scientific papers
than get involved in mud-slinging. I am also not going to get involved in
the rights or wrongs of the Percy Schmeiser case as I am sure he can defend

Dr Amman states:

"Hysteria without reason
In both of the above cases (i.e. Pusztai and Schmeiser) it would be quite
disturbing (?) to examine the scientific literature, because it would soon
become clear what the facts are. Between then and now the numbers of
publications relating to Pusztais' statements have grown to above 400. ( as
an aside: I thought we wrote papers and not statements!)

The number of major studies concerning the safety of these kinds of foods
published by experts in peer-reviewed journals has grown to about 30. And
they all convey the same message: genetically modified
foods are harmless1".

It is interesting how quickly the 400 publications all showing how wrong we
were in our GM potato studies is reduced within the next para to about 30
studies. As it so happens, I know the scientific literature reasonably well
and studied in detail most of the 19 major papers published between 1996 and
mid-2004 on the health aspects of GM crops/foods. Indeed, in the last six
years we have written three major reviews of the potential health effects of
GM crops/foods. In fact, the last one has just been published. Obviously, Dr
Amman and I must have read different papers because with the exception of a
few papers written by industry-funded scientists I could not find the
message in them that "genetically modified foods are harmless". If he reads
our reviews and has the open mind of a true scientist, he will see what I

Just for a taster:

Animals fed GM food had problems with blood and liver cell formation,
damaged organs, bleeding stomachs, excessive cell growth, inflammation in
lung tissue, and increased death rates. A preliminary (still unpublished)
study in Russia reported that most of the offspring of female rats fed GM
soy died within three weeks, that at least merits a re-run of her
experiments. Soon after GM soy was introduced to the UK, soy allergies
skyrocketed by 50 percent, and a GM food supplement killed about 100
Americans and cased 5,000-10,000 to fall sick. The only human feeding study
ever conducted on GM crops showed that foreign transgenes transferred from
food into intestinal bacteria. This has possible long-term implications and
raises concerns that antibiotic resistant marker genes might create super

It has also been shown that transgenic DNA not only survives digestion, but
can also found in the blood, liver, spleen and kidneys. DNA can even travel
via the placenta into unborn. The crops designed to create the Bt-toxin were
based on the assumption that it is not bioactive in mammals but when
Bt-toxin was fed to mice, they developed a powerful immune response and
abnormal and excessive cell growth in their intestines. Preliminary evidence
(not fully published) shows that Philippine villagers living next to a Bt maize field developed a mysterious disease while the crop was pollinating - three seasons in a row - and blood
tests also showed an immune response to Bt. The blood of farm workers
exposed to Bt also developed Bt-specific antibodies. Together these suggest
that Bt does react with humans, and that the assumptions used as the basis
for safety claims are erroneous. Consider the implications if Bt genes, like
Roundup Ready genes, were to transfer to gut bacteria. That could turn our
intestinal bacteria into living pesticide factories.

If Dr Amman wants I can send him the references to all the published studies
but he should also be able to get these if he takes the trouble and reads
our reviews.

The impact on the environment may be even worse, since GM crops contaminate
non-GM varieties and related species, and these and their genetic constructs
may persist in the environment for generations. The Bt-toxin may harm
beneficial insects and damage soil bacteria. The over-use of herbicides on
GM crops can contaminate water and harm humans and wildlife. Foreign genes
may transfer to soil bacteria and self-propagate for years. And the reliance
on a few crop varieties controlled by multinationals reduces crops diversity and leaves our food
supply vulnerable.

I was very interested to learn that according to Dr Amman:

"Among nutritional science experts, the experiments done by Pusztai are
being unanimously judged as inconclusive and incorrectly designed".

I am afraid, Dr Amman can by no stretch of the imagination be called a
nutritional expert, so I wonder how he came across so many nutritional
science experts and had the chance to question them about my nutritional
expertise so as to arrive at the unanimous damning conclusion that our
experiments were "inconclusive and incorrectly designed".

Dr Amman also states: "This is a paradox when one considers that Pusztai
normally has an excellent reputation where publications are concerned".

Unfortunately, as I could not accept his comments damning our expertise
because of his lack of nutritional know-how, I must also decline his
back-handed compliments.

Finally, we come to the most important part of Dr Ammann's piece, which
really shocked me coming from someone who is highly regarded in some
scientific and biotechnology circles but who apparently regards "basic
research" as "interesting" but "irrelevant where the effect on agriculture
and nutrition is concerned":

(Full quote: "For a fair and balanced assessment of risk"
"This certainly does not imply that we should discontinue investigating
security questions, rather that we should learn to distinguish between
necessary applied security research and basic research, which though
interesting, is irrelevant where the effect on agriculture and nutrition is

Here I rest my case because I cannot come to any sort of agreement with
someone who denigrates the role of basic research.

Best wishes


'Partial knowledge'
By Klaus Ammann
CheckBiotech, November 23, 2005

Copyright CheckBiotech

The plant ecologist, Klaus Ammann, is "calling on heavy scientific
ammunition" with regards to the Swiss initiative that calls for a moratorium
on green biotechnology.

This is his means of opposing what he considers a systematic campaign of
disinformation led by certain organizations against genetically engineered
crops. He makes no claim that science has absolute proof, but he refers to
scientific studies showing that genetically modified foods are safe.

We still hear from the biochemist, Arpad Pusztai, who asserted that rats
were harmed by genetically manipulated potatoes. We have heard him complain
about how he was mobbed by the "bad" biotech industry. That he was dismissed
from his last research project (after appointment as an Emeritus) certainly
remains questionable. For many, this is reason enough to accept his
experiments on rats and genetically modified plants, done in 1998, without
criticism. The reason being that in the meantime he, like Canadian farmer
Percy Schmeiser, who is regularly promoted by Greenpeace because his
rapeseed was allegedly "contaminated" by genetically modified "rapeseed",
has been transformed into European and worldwide folk heroes.

Hysteria without reason

In both of the above cases it would be quite disturbing to examine the
scientific literature, because it would soon become clear what the facts
are. Between then and now the numbers of publications relating to Pusztais'
statements have grown to above 400.

The number of major studies concerning the safety of these kinds of foods
published by experts in peer-reviewed journals has grown to about 30. And
they all convey the same message: genetically modified foods are harmless1.

These "doom-sayers" should finally acknowledge that several reports, based
on millions of dollars of research by the World Health Organization and the
European Union, all came to that same result. The source material is easily
obtained through Google. The problem here is that the average European, who
thoroughly rejects American politics (but not their culture), is too eager
to fall for these presumptions of disaster. One prefers to remain in the
realm of partial knowledge.

Among nutritional science experts, the experiments done by Pusztais are
being unanimously judged as inconclusive and incorrectly designed. This is a
paradox when one considers that Pusztais normally has an excellent
reputation where publications are concerned.

In the case of the rapeseed farmer, Percy Schmeiser, one cannot help but
notice that, according to the publicly available court transcripts, he
changed his story three times. First he pleaded not guilty because the
contamination was a consequence of pollen spread. Then he said he had
inadvertently mixed up the bags of seeds. In the third version he was found
guilty of sowing huge quantities of genetically modified rapeseed. In all
proceedings he was pronounced guilty. The opponents of biotechnology do not
seem to grasp this and are locked in to their world of partial knowledge
because the plaintiff and the firm that was proven right is Monsanto and
therefore so Schmeiser must be their innocent victim.

"Bio" and "GM" crops are healthy

All foods offered in Switzerland are healthy and harmless. This is also
valid for the products of organic farming, including "Bio" milk that has
come under recent scrutiny . However, further detailed research into this
product has not given proof of anything negative. The announcement of the
"Bio" milk study follows the same pattern. which resonates with our
population that loves to think about disaster scenarios: "It just could be,
thatS.!". This resurrected hysteria being celebrated amongst spoiled and
systematically frightened consumers is causing a dramatic drop in the
consumption of poultry ­ as if the avian flu transmittable from man to man
already existed.

A study by Kurt Bodenmueller ( shows that products
obtained through different farming methods in Switzerland show no systematic
quality difference. This is equally true when comparing genetically modified
corn and non-GMO corn, because our storage conditions are impeccable. This
can not be said for several third world countries. In their case, several
measurements and statistics show a correlation between certain corn-diet
disease patterns, which in the case of poor storage conditions show a higher
level of the dangerous carcinogen, Mycotoxin, in the non-GMO corn. (Johnny
Gressel in "Crop Protection" Volume 23, Page, 661-689,2004)2.

The knowledge gap of certain Development-Aid Organizations

Even Swiss council member Sommaruga (SP) prefers to remain in the realm of
partial knowledge and asserts in a presidential newsletter of Swissaid, over
which she presides, that genetically engineered plants have but one purpose
in developing countries, which is to secure the profits of big companies.

For her to make such reckless announcement might be the result of the
encouragement of her assistant, Tina Goethe, whose pamphlets can be read in
"Konkret" (7, 2005).

The fact that the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) publications and
reputed scientific journals say the opposite does not seem to bother this
politician and her assistant. The fact is that 86percent of green biotech
projects are supported by public funding; whereas private funding accounts
for about 1 percent worldwide3.

GM Free Switzerland ­ a fairy tale

What is particularly irritating about the current moratorium initiative up
for vote in Switzerland, is the resounding name: GM free initiative. It
conjures up a fairy tale image of a GM free Switzerland. The fact that all
imported foods are excluded from this initiative only becomes clear in
reading the fine print as well as the clarifications by some of the
initiative¹s proponents, not to mention all the genetically engineered
ingredients that enter the country through the back door.

Many foods can only be produced worldwide thanks to the efficiency of
genetically engineered additives. Further, in the realm of livestock feed,
agricultural biotechnology can hardly be avoided. Consequently, the
"purists" among the opposition to agricultural biotechnology are now
demanding transparent labeling. However, transparency in labeling requires
evidence, which, in the case of animals fed with genetically-engineered
foodstuffs, is impossible.

Numerous studies have shown that bioengineering leaves no detectable traces
in either milk or other foods. Here again, the wonderful conundrum of
partial knowledge among consumers, wholesalers, and a few laboratories still
prevails. Indeed, one wants to take consumers seriously, but one nonetheless
insists on mandatory labeling of biotechnology despite its absurdity and

I argue that consumers should really be taken seriously, that is, that they
should be told that this will only incur higher costs due to complicated and
unwieldy procedures. The label "GM free" only has a meaning for its
adherents and should instead be handled like kosher foods, for example.

The hypocrisy around the notion of freedom of research

The slogan that research will not be affected by the moratorium sounds good
but is unreliable. In the text of the Initiative, this is not explicitly
stated and part of the initiators are strong adversaries of biotechnology -
the same people - with arguments later proven wrong ­ who strongly opposed
the successful experiment with genetically modified wheat done by the ETH
Zurich. One can read about the efforts to derail the experiment on the
website, Swiss Federal Department for Environment, Forests and Countryside

The courageous Head of Research, Christof Sauter, after fighting for years
and after completing a successful experiment in the field, has given up,
discouraged. For example, he was forced to conduct an individual protocol on
each of the 1,600 wheat seeds, and to dig up every single seed that did not
germinate. A humiliation forced upon him by the fundamentalists and the
Buwal. This discouragement is experienced by many young researchers who
either leaves the science of plant biotechnology or their country. Should
this moratorium pass it would give yet another negative signal.

A digression from scientific knowledge

If heavy scientific ammunition is brought forth here it is only with the
objective to counter the systematic campaign of disinformation advocated by
some organizations, and not to advance any absolute scientific certainty.
However, it is striking to see how easily one notes the lack of any
scientific evidence in a situation where many serious studies would be

The distrust existing in the population, due to, among other things, the
scandal of mad cow's disease makes it easy for many opponents to claim,
endowed with a certain "trust bonus" from the public, that research, where
security is concerned, is insufficiently advanced.

Further, we can add those who, in their own interest, would like to
implement expensive research projects. These ecologists plead for
investigations that may elicit scientific interest but that have very little
to do with security in agricultural production. I suggest that the security
issue be clarified based on the scientific literature that already exists in
abundance (cp. Overview of the consequences of agricultural biotechnology on
biodiversity in: "Trends of Biotechnology", volume 23, 8, Pages 388-3944).

The effects of genetically engineered plants on the environment and food are
among the best researched security questions in science ­ it would be about
time for the opponents of genetic engineering to acknowledge this fact.

For a fair and balanced assessment of risk

This certainly does not imply that we should discontinue investigating
security questions, rather that we should learn to distinguish between
necessary applied security research and basic research, which though
interesting, is irrelevant where the effect on agriculture and nutrition is
concerned. In addition, the time has come to compare the risks with other
agricultural strategies. Only then will we get a fair assessment of the
risk. It would also be urgently necessary to investigate the negative
effects of "organic" pest control, because in this field, proven
irreversible damage has already been done: a parasite deposited on a known
pest agent surprisingly jumped host, in this case to a rare, consequently
now extinct, type of moth5. One can only imagine the howling and grinding of
teeth by the fundamentalists if the blame could be laid on a genetically
modified plant.

Dr. Klaus Amman is a plant ecologist and Director of the Botanical Garden in


2Gressel, J., Hanafi, A., Head, G., Marasas, W., Obilana, B., Ochanda, J.,
Souissi, T., & Tzotzos, G. (2004) Major heretofore intractable biotic
constraints to African food sec urity that may be amenable to novel
biotechnological solutions. Crop Protection, 23, 8, pp 661-689.

3Diese Sachlage hat der Schreibende nachgeprüft und auf der öffentlich
zugänglichen Website der neuen Nichtregierungsorganisation «Public Research
and Regulation Initiative» zusammengestellt, diese Tabelle wächst noch
ständig ( > Working Groups, > Information, oder
direkt: ) Dazu
noch zwei wichtige Hintergrund-Publikationen:

Cohen, J.I. (2005) Poorer nations turn to publicly developed GM crops (vol
23, pg 27, 2005). Nature Biotechnology, 23, 3, p 366.

Dhlamini, Z., Spillane, C., Moss, J., Ruane, J., Urquia, J., & Sonnino, A.
(2005). Status of Research and Application of Crop Technologies in
Developing Countries, Preliminary Assessment, FAO pp 62 FAO Reports Rome.

4 Ammann, K. (2005) Effects of biotechnology on biodiversity:
herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant GM crops. Trends in Biotechnology,
23, 8, pp 388-394.

5 und:
Henneman, M.L. & Memmott, J. (2001) Infiltration of a Hawaiian Community by
Introduced Biological Control Agents. Science, 293, 5533, pp 1314-1316

This GMO news service is underwritten by a generous grant from the Newman's
Own Foundation, edited by Thomas Wittman and is a production of the
Ecological Farming Association