Consequences of the Pusztai Study
by Jill Davies 3/23/99

A primary concern about genetically engineered (GE) crops is
that there could be health effects from eating them. Of particular
concern is the insertion into the food supply of transgenetic varieties
which have been engineered to express Bt, a naturally occurring insecticide.
Corn, cotton (of which the oil is used in foods), and potatoes are crops
which now express the Bt toxin in every cell of the plant. They are now
being extensively grown in the US and Canada and are already in the
food supply in various forms. Little is known about the health effects of
eating these foods because comprehensive safety testing is not required.
It is assumed by the regulating agencies that if the organisms in question
(both host and trait) are already in the food supply in some form, or are
naturally occurring, then they are "substantially equivalent" to what is
already considered safe.

One study, however, has recently opened the lid on this
question. Conducted by an experienced and highly respected
scientist at the Rowett Research Institute in Scotland, the objective of
the study was to investigate potential health effects of potatoes that
had been engineered to express an insecticidal compound (lectin)
from the snowdrop plant, by feeding them to rats and evaluating
their metabolism and organ development. They used unmodified
potatoes and unmodified potatoes with some lectin added (not via
GE) as controls. The results astonished the scientist, Dr. Arpad
Pusztai, a leading authority on lectins, who had been working with
the snowdop lectin for several years, and was using it in these trials
precisely because he thought it was not toxic to mammals.

Dr. Pusztai first compared the GE potatoes with the parental
(non-altered) potatoes to test for 'substantial equivalence'. He found
that the amounts of protein, starch, sugars and enzymes in the
compared potatoes were different. This meant that there was no
'substantial equivalence' in the GE potatoes and that this was
evidence of possible gene silencing, suppression, and/or alteration of
neighboring genes in the potato genome as a result of gene insertion.
That was a monumental finding in itself, but the study went further
to find, after feeding and analysis, that with the GE potatoes only,
there were significant reductions in the weights of many organs,
including the intestine, pancreas, kidneys, liver, lungs, and brain.
There were increases in the weights of the thymus (related to the
immune system), the prostate, and the gastrocnemius muscle. The
immune response was depressed and there was evidence of intestinal
infection which was thought to be a result of the virus (cauliflower
mosaic virus) that was used as part of the vector to carry the genes
into the host. This indicated that the GE potato did not just express
the new trait in a directly linear fashion, as is professed by the
proponents of GE, but that the whole potato was altered.

Dr. Pusztai, at 68, with 35 years of lectin research under his
belt, commented: "as one of the most internationally renowned lectin
experts, I can say with confidence....that I could never recommend
most, if any, of the lectin genes for use in transgenic crop plants
destined for human consumption. As Bt toxin is also a lectin, and its
gene is used in transgenic maize, and potatoes and, undoubtedly in
many other plants, the above statement has a clear relevance to its
safety. Clearly, it is the duty of whoever introduces Bt-toxin-
containing transgenic plants into the food chain to prove beyond
reasonable doubt that it is safe for the consumer."

When the results of this study were finally presented to the
public in February, '99, an already smoldering fire in the collective
British mind burst into flame. The people said they will not accept
having GE foods rammed down their throats. Many questions were
asked: Why was the study suppressed for 6 months? Why was
Monsanto involved and meeting so often with government officials?
How much GE produce is already in our food supply? Why aren't
they labeled? The people went to their supermarkets and demanded
labeling. They also went to their officials. Here are some of the
results this populist revolution has brought:
- supermarket chains in Britain and 5 EU countries have
formed a consortium to establish and maintain non-GE sources
- restaurants, cafes, delis and bakers must now inform
customers when they are buying GE foods derived from GE
soy or corn, this to be enforced by trading standards officers.
- The Local Government Association has placed a 5 year ban on
GE foods in all British schools, old people's homes, town halls,
affecting 10m children, 1.5m government workers, 1m elderly.
- momentum is building for a European moratorium on the growing
of any GE crop, and for a total ban on the import of GE foods.
- GE test plots in other countries around the world are being
shut down or more closely regulated.

These actions will have world wide repercussions on trade
and agriculture. The demand for Non-GE crops and organic produce
is driving prices up and it is likely that the supply will not meet the
demand. Prices for GE crops are already dropping fast. In the U.S.,
around 50 million acres of GE crops were grown in 1998, 25% of the
total acres of corn was Bt corn, and 45% was Bt cotton, and 32% of
the soy was engineered to be herbicide resistant. This is expected to
increase in 1999. Who will be left footing the bill when the farmers
are unable to sell their crops? They do everything that the land
grant colleges and corporations tell them to do, and still they keep
going broke. Federal subsidy talk is beginning again in Washington.
What is wrong with this picture?

*Report of Project Coordinator (Project RO818), Rowett Research
Institute 1998
*Audit of data, Project RO 818, Rowett Research Institute
Aug. 21, 1998
*British news articles, Feb & March, 1999
*The Gene Exchange, Union of Concerned Scientists,
Fall/Winter 1998

~~~~~ Jill Davies ~~~ River Care ~~~~
"You can do whatever you don't know you can't do."