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Pusztai Fights Back With Royal Approval

14 June 1999 6:00 pm
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Arpad Pusztai, the British scientist whose controversial studies triggered a furious debate over the safety of transgenic food but were criticized by a Royal Society committee, is fighting to save his reputation. Last weekend, he launched a Web site in an attempt to refute the committee's scathing conclusions.

Pusztai was suspended from his job at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland, last August, after saying in a TV documentary that transgenic potatoes could stunt rats' growth. Critics of genetic engineering seized on his words to prop up their case, and in February, an international group of scientists spoke out in his defense. But in May, six anonymous experts appointed by the Royal Society called the data "inadequate," because of flaws in the experiment's design and Pustzai's analysis (ScienceNOW, 18 May 1999).

On his new Web site, Pusztai responds by posting the entire text of the anonymous reviews, along with his own rebuttal and his correspondence with the Royal Society. He claims that the reviewers saw only internal documents that were prepared for study collaborators and didn't include details of experimental design or methodology; the material available to the panel wasn't fit, Pusztai claims, for the journal-style peer-review that the Royal Society undertook.

Meanwhile, the beleaguered scientist has an influential new defender. Last week, Pusztai met the Prince of Wales, who has recently become a leading voice in the British campaign against transgenic foods. According to Pusztai, Prince Charles told him he had been treated cruelly by the scientific establishment and deserved an apology. Charles's office refused to confirm the content of the meeting. "It's ironic" that royalty will step in when the government fails to respond to the wishes of its citizens, says Pusztai.

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