Examination of witnesses
(Questions 140 - 159)
MONDAY 8 MARCH 1999
PUSZTAI and DR
140. You do not recollect anywe are told,
you see, here, a quotation from Professor Jamesthat you
were "bombarded at home by enquiries, praise and criticisms
from all over the world", but you do not remember any criticisms?
(Dr Pusztai) As I said, there were three, I know who
the three people were. One, I already said, is the BBC, and that
is on record, you can actually listen to it, and I listened to
it many times. There was a Daily Express reporter who `phoned
me; and there was another one, whom I cannot remember.
But they were mainly trying to find out what was happening. I
do not know whether that was, as I say, a blitz, that is not really
my recollection; I was certainly given a number.
141. What aspect of your work were they particularly
interested in; the fact that these rats became ill?
(Dr Pusztai) You have to understand that when I started
off I spent a lot of time, something like over six years, on selecting
GNA out, as a gene product which, in my opinion, was extremely
safe; in fact, it had quite a few beneficial properties. So it
was mainly on my advice that GNA was inserted into potatoes, and
all sorts of other things, not just potatoes, but we only dealt
with potatoes. So we had this background in it. And when the experiments
which we did started to sort of indicate that everything was not
alright, then we tried to do more experiments, designing them
in such a way that we perhaps could more precisely pinpoint what
would be the trouble. And the trouble which we found was, first,
that there were, compositionally, major differencesI say
"major" quite deliberatelymajor difference; if
you have a potato line which is grown side by side in the same
tunnel and has got 20 per cent less protein, that I would regard
as a major difference. But there were other compositional differences;
now we tried to correct for these, but, of course, you cannot
correct for all compositional differences. So we tried to do experiments
in which we looked at not just the growth ratewe knew already
that the growth would be affected, if you have 20 per cent less
protein, by definition, the growth rate will be affectedbut
we tried to compensate for it, just to see if any other functions
of the body, or any other part of the gastrointestinal tract,
or whatever other organ, would be affected. And this was when
we started to get really very seriously worried about the outcome
of the experiments.
142. Can I ask you: why do you think the Rowett
press release of 10 August talked of ConA-GM studies when you
were using an entirely different gene, let us call it the snowdrop
(Dr Pusztai) I think that it was certainly a breakdown
in communications, that is what it was. I do not want to say another
word for it, but it was a breakdown.
143. Do you think that breakdown in communications
could have been rectified had you been shown the press release
before it was issued?
(Dr Pusztai) Yes.
144. Dr Pusztai, you say that you were suspended
and then, and I quote you, from your submission to this Committee,
"denied any right to clarify scientific or other points and
issues." In what way were you denied this right?
(Dr Pusztai) Very explicitly, I am afraid, in letters,
which I received from my Director. Remember that I am an active
scientist. The BBSRC staff code, which applied to us, is about
800 pages, I do not think that any scientist has ever read that,
but then the relevant sections of that which refer to disciplinary
matters were very precisely and extremely explicitly described
to me by Professor James in this letter. He said what I can do
and what I cannot do; mostly what I cannot do, perhaps, as has
been said, what I must not do. And remember that I was in a bit
of a shock myself. It is not a situation which youwell,
certainly, I never expected to be in that situation, and it is
also a real shock to me, and perhaps I kept quiet for a long time;
for remember that all our experimental data had been taken away,
so I could not say, even if I wanted to say, something about a
point coming up, in some press release or whatever, I could not
precisely answer it because I had to rely on my memory. I had
no data, not till 19 October, well over two months later, when
the data started to come back. So it was, on one hand, an explicit
command not to speak; on the other, it was that I did not even
have the data, so how could I actually explain things in such
a way that I would not do anybody, least of all myself, any injustice.
145. Was it one letter or was it several letters
that he wrote to you?
(Dr Pusztai) Several letters.
146. Could you provide to us those letters?
(Dr Pusztai) In confidence, they were confidential,
and, of course, I do not know whatI do have them, actually,
so we can provide them, if necessary.
147. If the Committee thinks it appropriate
to ask for them, you wouldin fact, I am advised by my adviser
that we do already have them, sealed and in a safe, and they are
received in confidence.
(Dr Pusztai) As I say, they are confidential, and
I certainly do not want toI am very anxious to avoid any
sort of ...
Chairman: Yes, I understand.
148. Is Professor James correct to state that,
and I quote from his submission, "the challenge that we `gagged'
Dr Pusztai related to our insistence that he only discuss published
work when speaking to the media"; is he correct in saying
(Dr Pusztai) I do not know when he did say this; he
certainly did say it later, after the event, but, at the beginning,
before we started off with all this, remember, this was, how shall
I put it, I was, in fact, saying something which was Institute
policy, it is this cautionary approach to the whole business of
genetic modification, or any other novel food, for that matter.
So it is very important that we should remember that this business
of me going on the programme was very much a part of the normal
publicity, sort of what you get nowadays, because you have to
raise moneyyou have to raise moneyand most of the
reason why, eight years after I retired, I was there was because
I raised a lot of money, it is as simple as that, so if you can
get some more money then that is a good thing.
149. In the seven weeks between the recording
of the programme and it being transmitted, did you discuss with
any of your colleagues, particularly those working with you that
had done the actual experiments, but also other people in the
Institute, what had happened on the programme?
(Dr Pusztai) The programme was recorded in the presence
of the Institute's PR person. Of course, our group was intimately
involved; in fact, some of them were televised as they were doing
the work. And then there was also a period when we were away;
remember, July is the month when people normally take holidays,
and I was away, too. We came back well before 10 August, because
we did not even know which day the programme would be shown. But
within the group we had discussed it extensively, yes.
150. Discussed what you said?
(Dr Pusztai) Yes.
151. Two very brief ones. Have you heard of
any other scientist gagged and sacked in this way?
(Dr Pusztai) I do not know any other. I do know some,
but it is only by hearsay.
152. And, at that time, or over the next few
weeks, why do you think it happened?
(Dr Pusztai) I would have to speculate, and that,
I am afraid, is a very difficult thing.
153. What went through your mind; what were
(Dr Pusztai) Look, I am a bit naiveI
may not look naive now, but I was at the time very naive;
I thought that I was going to do something which was, in a sense,
an Institute approach to something, and something important, but
I did not, in fact, realise, neither did the Institute realise,
the huge commercial and other political significance of what I
said. It was a bit of dynamite. Now I do realise it, but at the
time I did not realise it. You see, on 13 January, I said almost
exactly the same thing, on the BBC Newsnight programme. As I say,
there is nothing unusual about it.
154. In your submission, you said that the audit
of your work was carried out incorrectly and came to incorrect
conclusions; how convinced are you?
(Dr Pusztai) It is a strange business that in a nutrition
institute there was no nutritionist on the committee, that is
a strange business; and most of the work was nutrition, with all
sorts of other associations, but there was no animal expertise,
so I thought that it was rather inappropriate to have people on
it who had very little animal work experience; in fact, three
of the people had practically none.
155. Can I just check that it took less than
ten hours, this audit?
(Dr Pusztai) I think so, because Professor Bourne,
whom I knew quite well, previously, arrived on Thursday afternoon,
very late in the afternoon, and probably could have had some sort
of coming together with the Rowett members, but the audit actually
started at 9 o'clock on Friday morning, and I know that it was
finished by half-past three, because one of the members of the
committee, with some technical help, was carrying back all the
papers, for safekeeping.
156. Could I just clarify one particular point
of Dr Kumar's, before I go to Dr Jones? I am sure you are saying
that a ten-hour audit on all the work you did was inappropriate,
and you have every reason to think it may well have been inappropriate,
but inappropriateness does not necessarily result in incorrect
conclusions. So, although we might agree that it was inappropriate,
are you certain that the conclusions reached were incorrect?
(Dr Pusztai) The point is that we had done experimental
work, altogether something like 170 rats, dissecting them into
20 different tissues, wet and dry, so we are talking about something
like 6,000, 7,000, 8,000 bits of information. Now they should
have been put into the appropriate statistical analysis, and you
can judge it from the fact that the independent statistical analysis
has only been done before this week. And, therefore, I would say
that it was not really well done.
157. You refer to an independent statistical
analysis; is that the analysis that has been done by Dr Graham
Horgan, which you sent to us? Can I just quote from what Dr Horgan
said, it is here, I have not read the whole report, it is just
his summary, and he says: "However, no consistent pattern
of changes in organ weights was discernible over the four experiments.
Diet differences were also found in the immune responses of the
rats, but concerns about the experimental design meant that these
results are open to other interpretations." Do you agree
with Dr Horgan's conclusion?
(Dr Pusztai) I think that you have to consider it
in this light, that we had two different lines, which were substantially
not equivalent, and, therefore, you cannot compare four experiments
which were done with two different, substantially non-equivalent
potatoes; and also there were other differences, not just in time
but protein concentration. This was an initial piece of work which
was to probe into the whole problem, and the only experiment which
you can compare is, for example, the D227I do not want
toforget about the numbers
158. Can I also say, Dr Pusztai, thank you very
much for that, because we are here really to inquire into procedures
(Dr Pusztai) I am sorry about it.
159. No, not at all, not at all; we asked the
question and you were answering it, so it is not your fault in
any way. But we do want to try to keep the details on the science
to a minimum, otherwise we will never get through the principle
of the matter.
(Dr Pusztai) Yes.
8 The Times. Back