It would be an understatement to say that Jeffrey Smith is on a mission to rid the world of foods that contain genetically engineered organisms (GMOs). Candace Pert, a former scientist at the US National Institutes of Health, says Mr. Smith is “the leading world expert in the understanding and communication of the health issues surrounding genetically modified foods.” No one else comes close.
Smith has earned the attention of influential leaders from all over the world by visiting 30 countries to warn people about the new foods. He has written two books on the subject, Seeds of Deception
and Genetic Roulette
, and interviews with him have appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, BBC World Service, Time, LA Times
and hundreds of other media outlets.
I first heard Smith speak in 2008 at BoulderFest, a series of nutrition seminars that was founded by the late nutritionist Robert Crayhon. Smith is a dynamic speaker with a message we need to hear: “Healthy eating starts with no GMOs.” OK, so what exactly are genetically modified organisms and how do we know if we are eating them?
Let’s answer the second question first, which is, “If you’re living in the US, you don’t know you’re eating them.” Food labeling laws in the US don’t require informing consumers if their foods contain genetically modified ingredients. And if you don’t think this is a big deal, consider that an estimated 70 percent of the foods on supermarket shelves contain GMOs. The most common products are soy, corn, oil made from canola and cottonseed, sugar made from sugar beets, Hawaiian papaya, zucchini and crookneck squash. Many other fruits, vegetables, grains and beans are considered candidates for GMOs.
To help you find out what foods are GMOs, you can download a free guidebook from www.ResponsibleTechnology.org
. However, there are a few tricks you can use to get around the problem of hidden GMOs, such as buying organic foods, looking for products that say they are non-GMO, consulting a non-GMO shopping guide and avoiding foods that are likely to contain GMOs. Regarding this last suggestion, be aware that in the United States 91 percent of soy products and 85 percent of corn products contain GMOs.
Now let’s address the second question: “What is a genetically modified food?” This may sound a bit like Star Trek
or, perhaps more appropriately, the main character Frank Black screaming “Soylent Green is people! Soylent Green is people!” in the movie Soylent Green
, a futuristic tale in which people are used as a food source. But the fact is GMOs are made by taking the genes of one species and forcing them into the DNA of a food or animal to introduce a new trait. Why do this?
One reason is to increase crop yields, as these foods are better able to tolerate toxic herbicides, are less likely to be affected by E. coli and salmonella, and are resistant to threats from pests. Here’s an example of the last point: Inserting Bacillus thuringiensis, a soil bacterium, into crops makes them insect repellant in the sense that when insects try to eat the crops, the insects die. The result is that more food can be grown and it will cost less. Noble goals to be sure, but genetically modified foods come with risks that simply may not be worth the benefits. But first, let’s hear what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has to say about such biotechnology.
In a “Statement of Policy” presented on May 29, 1992, the FDA said the following: “The agency is not aware of any information showing that foods derived by these new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.” Smith contends that this policy was influenced by politics and that FDA scientists had expressed concerns about the safety of GMOs but that these concerns were ignored. Smith says the person in charge of the FDA policy had previously worked (first as an attorney and later as a vice president) for a company that produced GMOs.
I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here by saying that the FDA was wrong. Let’s talk research.
Of Mice and Men
The entire first chapter of Seeds of Deception
is devoted to Dr. Arpad Pusztai. Dr. Pusztai has published more than 300 articles and a dozen books, and in the ’90s he and his research team were the recipients of a $3 million grant from the United Kingdom to safety-test GMOs.
Pusztai’s research showed that when genetically modified potatoes were fed to rats, the rats developed problems in the liver, brain, testicles and immune system and also showed precancerous cell growth. When Dr. Pusztai shared his unpublished research on a television program, he was fired from his job of 35 years, a consequence that smacks of dirty politics. Eventually, however, his research was published in the respected, peer-reviewed journal Lancet
. But Pusztai was not the only scientist interested in the possible effects of GMOs on health.
One study on GMOs fed to rats was published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences
, and the researchers found that the group of rats fed genetically modified corn had disorders of the liver, kidney, heart, adrenal glands and spleen. Likewise, a Russian study was performed on female rats that were fed genetically engineered soy flour before, during and after gestating their young. Nine percent of the rats that were fed non-genetically modified soy flour died compared to the 55.6 percent of the rats that died after eating the GMO-engineered modified soy. And of the rats that survived, 36 percent were underweight, compared to 6.7 percent of rats that were underweight in the control group.
I should also mention that a study was performed on male rats that were fed genetically modified soy. Their testicles changed from pink to dark blue. Likewise, male mice showed damage to their sperm, and mice that were given genetically modified corn had fewer offspring, and the offspring were underweight. As for larger animals, there is much empirical evidence available. For example, in 2008 a farm allowed 13 buffalo to graze on genetically engineered cotton plants – all 13 died within three days. And Smith notes that animals, when given a choice, will prefer non-GMO foods over GMO foods. “Our job,” says Smith, “is to get humans up to the level of animals.”
Then there is the question of allergies. In 1996 there was widespread use of genetically engineered crops. From 1997 to 2002, emergency room visits for allergies doubled. Perhaps this was completely coincidental or it might have been due to the influence of environmental toxins, but there are many reasons to suspect GMOs are responsible because their modified proteins possess properties of known allergies and because genetically modified crops have residues of toxic herbicides that can cause allergic reactions. And it’s been found that genetically modified soy products can decrease the amount of digestive enzymes in the body. These enzymes affect the body’s ability to break down proteins, and this can increase our allergic reactions to foods. Oh, and I should mention here that foods which are genetically modified do not have the same nutritional quality as non-GMO foods.
There are many other health issues associated with GMOs, but here is one of the most worrisome: Smith says that the genes placed in crops can transfer to humans by means of the DNA of the “friendly” bacteria and as such will continue to function after the food is ingested. Smith says this turns the human gut into a “pesticide factory” that essentially produces toxins that attack the body. Scared yet? You should be.
Jeffrey Smith is committed to educating the world about the dangers of genetically engineered foods. If you agree it’s critical to learn more about this serious health concern, pick up a copy of each of his books on GMOs. Your health depends on it.