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7th December 2012

whistleblower coverBertram Verhaag’s film Scientists Under Attack explores the ideological problems of corporate profiteering, control and contamination of the food chain by genetic engineering.  In Whistleblower, Verhaag uses Arpad Pusztai’s ongoing mission of presenting the hard scientific facts so that people can see the potential health risks of eating GM food for themselves.

Pusztai is famous for his 1998 World in Action television  interview, which sparked a media frenzy. When asked if he would eat the GM potato he was testing, he said, "If I had the choice I certainly would not eat it.... I find that it’s very very unfair to use our fellow citizens as guinea pigs."

The interview took place during Pusztai's comparison feeding trial using the Desiree GM potato and a non-GM potato at the Rowett Research Institute in Scotland. The point of Desiree was to see whether the genetic material inserted into it from the lectin (protein) of the bulb of the snowdrop plant protected it from aphid attack, which it did. The lab rats were not supposed to have been touched by eating the engineered potato. However, the rats eating Desiree were developing differently to the controls. Pusztai had found a problem with the GM potato.

He shared his finding early because the experiments showed 36 very highly significant differences in the animals eating the GM potato. For example, there were physiological changes to the gut, which increased in size even though the animal was not growing as fast, and the liver and kidneys were not developing as well as the animals in the comparison groups.

Two days later, after initially being hailed as a hero, Pusztai was sacked by the Rowett Research Institute when his Director allegedly received two telephone calls from the then Prime Minister Tony Blair. From that moment, the only person in the world who was speaking out about the implications of consuming GM food over the long term was silenced along with 20 of his colleagues, who remain to this day under a life-time gag from talking about these experiments.

Meanwhile, the newspapers were printing what they liked about Pusztai, but he had no right of reply. It was only when the Science and Technology Committee in the House of Commons demanded that he present his evidence to them that the gag imposed by the Rowett was effectively removed.

Dr Stanley Ewan of Aberdeen University, Pusztai’s long term friend and colleague, was very confused about what had happened to Pusztai. It was only months later at a dinner party when the person sitting next to him explained what had actually occurred. Ewan was told that, ''Extremely high pressure had been brought to bear on the Rowett Institute, which therefore caused the rapid cesessation of Arpad Pusztai’s contract.''

Ian Pryme at the University of Bergen was asked to validate Pusztai’s test results, which have since been confirmed by him and 23 independent scientists. Pryme then went on to analyse the biotech companies data on GM food already on the market. He concluded that their studies were not scientifically well founded and did not compare favourably to Pusztai’s very exentensive studies.

The shock of losing his job after 35 years was sufficient to cause Pusztai to have a heart attack, but worse still for him was the realisation that the corporate scientists whose flimsy studies determine GM food safety were ignoring the health of the world, and allowing potentially harmful foods onto the market for economic gain.

In hindsight, he believes that had the biotechnology industry not tried to make an example of him, the public concern around the so called ‘Frankenstein foods’ would have quickly blown over. However, the suppression of the truth and the ensuing scandal served to have an electricfying effect upon the mind of the average person, who got the message that there really was something to worry about.

As the winner of the Whistleblower Award 2005, Pusztai reiterates that animals fed GM foods have undergone very considerable physiological changes. When we eat those animals we are eating food that is substantially different. Therefore the biotech corporations claiming that GM food is ‘substantially equivalent’ to non-genetically engineered food is fallacious. They have added in an extra gene, or combination of genes, which irrevocably change the level of expression and action of its host genome to something far from its original state.

He explains that the reason there is no safety risk assessment done on these very real differences is a policy decision made by governments and the corporations on the basis of if you don’t know, they can’t be held responsible.

This film cleverly exposes the corruption at the heart of the GM industry and colourfully weaves together film footage past and present to give a remarkably clear picture of Arpad Pusztai’s struggles.

(c) Denkmal Films