15 October 1999
Gene food a threat to blood cells?

NEW fears have been raised about the safety of genetically modified (GM) food after research has shown a GM product could affect human blood cells.

A team from Dundee report that a natural insecticide found in snowdrops and used in GM experiments binds strongly with human white blood cell proteins.

The Scottish Crop Research Institute researchers, led by Dr Brian Fenton, said the consequences of this are unknown.

They said more work was required before GM food could be introduced on a large scale in this country.

White blood cells are essential elements of the immune system. Any effect on their functioning would have serious consequences.

The outline of this work is published in The Lancet which is also publishing controversial research by Dr Arpad Pusztai.

His work, which used the same protein as the Dundee team, is said to show rats fed GM potatoes suffered stomach and intestine damage.

Dr Pusztais work drew widespread criticism from many peers who claimed it was flawed.

His supporters claim the decision by The Lancet to publish it is a vindication of Dr Pusztai. Opponents say the prestigious journal should not publish.

Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, denied the article was a vindication of Dr Pusztais work and that he was “somewhat surprised” by the hostility aroused.

Speaking on Radio 4s Farming Today, he said: “Theres been a lot of misinformation about this data. Weve had one organisation throw insults at another organisation.

“But weve not had a clear exposition of how these data might be interpreted, why they need to be put out into the public domain.

“Im sure all scientists would agree they want to understand the publics concerns about GM food and support the need for further research.

“I cannot see how publication of these data, after very careful peer review in a neutral scientific space in a journal, could be in any way harmful.”

Mr Horton said “extreme forces” were at work on both sides. The stakes were made higher because of the huge potential in research investment from the food industry.