Rowett Institute: GM potatoes

On 12 February 1999 the ACNFP published a press release on research undertaken at the Rowett Institute on GM potatoes.

Press release: ACNFP still waiting for details of research from Dr Pusztai's work on potatoes

Following press reports last month that Dr Ewen at the Pathology Department of Aberdeen University had analysed tissue samples from rats fed GM potatoes the ACNFP requested access to the results as a matter of urgency.

The ACNFP chairman Professor Bainbridge said: 'it is deplorable that these results are apparently being made available to the press while the Dean of the Medical Faculty at Aberdeen University has forbidden their disclosure to the ACNFP."

'I would once again urge Dr Ewen to make the results of his analyses available to the ACNFP so we can establish whether the findings have any significance for the regulation of GM foods.

'No GM potatoes have yet been submitted for approved under the novel foods regulation and any such application would be carefully assessed taking into account all relevant information including the results of studies such as those reportedly carried out by the Rowett Institute. The novel foods approval system is specifically designed to ensure that novel foods which might give rise to safety concerns do not reach the market.

'From what we currently know of the Rowett work, potatoes containing the Concanavalin A lectin at the levels used in their studies would not be approved for food use.'

All GM foods are rigorously assessed for safety by the independent Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes as part of an EC wide scrutiny system before they are approved for use.

Notes for Editors

1. The Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes is an independent body of experts whose remit is:

'To advise Health and Agriculture Ministers of Great Britain and the Heads of the Departments of Health and Social Services and Agriculture for Northern Ireland on any matters relating to the irradiation of food or to the manufacture of novel foods or foods produced by novel processes, having regard where appropriate to the views of relevant expert bodies.'

2. The Committee is a voluntary body comprising a Chairman and Members appointed for their personal expertise and not to represent particular interests. The Committee's main task is to examine food safety aspects of novel foods and foods subjected to novel processes and advise Ministers accordingly.


Copies of the ACNFP correspondence with Dr Ewen and his reply

Letter from MAFF Secretary, Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP) to Dr Ewen, University of Aberdeen, Pathology Department

ACNFP Secretariat
Joint Food Safety and Standards Group
Room 239c, Ergon House
17 Smith Square
London SW1P 3JR


Doctor S Ewen
Department of Pathology
University Medical Building

Dear Doctor Ewen,


We understand from the above newspaper article that you have carried out histological analyses of tissues from rats fed a genetically modified potato in experiments run at the Rowett Research Institute. The article indicates that you have findings which may have serious implications in relation to the assessment of the safety of GM foods.

The ACNFP is an independent committee advising UK Ministers on issues relating to novel (including genetically modified) foods. The Committee has asked, as a matter of urgency, if it would be possible to have access to a detailed report of your examinations and conclusions.

The newspaper article indicates that you are unwilling to discuss your findings in advance of their peer review and publication. Nevertheless I would hope you would understand that it is important for the ACNFP to be able to assess any new developments so that it may bring the most up-to-date knowledge to bear in carrying out safety evaluations of novel foods. If there are lessons to be learned it is vital that these are taken on board as soon as possible.

I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

Yours sincerely

Nick Tomlinson
MAFF Secretary to ACNFP

Reply from Dr Ewen to the MAFF Secretary, ACNFP.

University of Aberdeen
Department of Pathology
University Medical Buildings
Aberdeen AB25 2ZD


Room 239c Ergon House
17 Smith Square

Dear Dr. Tomlinson

Thank you for your letter dated 04.02.99 that I received to-day. The article you quote does indeed allege that my findings may have serious implications but the words are Chris Leake's and not mine. Nonetheless I have histological evidence that is presently unpublished and, as my colleague has been severely criticised for premature disclosure, I must be circumspect. Indeed the Dean of the Medical Faculty, University of Aberdeen, has forbidden me to make mention of any unpublished work otherwise subsequent publication of the data would be prejudiced. With great regret, I feel unwilling to enter any debate in the present rather tense circumstances surrounding these important issues.

Kindest regards,
Yours sincerely,
Dr. S. W. B. Ewen

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