Photo: Jeffrey Smith speaks at a Green Festival.
Dynamic Green Festival® speaker Jeffrey Smith has traveled around the world, talking with government leaders and community activists on the dangers of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the food supply. Known for his ability to translate scientific studies on GMOs into language that everyday people can understand, Smith is the author of Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies about the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating (Yes Books, 2005) and Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods (Yes Books, 2003). Smith is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT), a nonprofit group that educates policy makers and the public on the risks associated with GM foods. He’s also been the subject of a targeted, robust industry campaign to discredit his work, but we think you might want to listen to him anyway. Learn more about GMO risks and subscribe to a free newsletter at responsibletechnology.org, and find out how to avoid GMOs at NonGMOShoppingGuide.com.
Jeffrey Smith speaks at a Green Festival.
Green America/Tracy Fernandez Rysavy: How did the potential dangers of GMOs first land on your radar?
Jeffrey Smith: It came from a warning by a scientist at a lecture I was attending in 1996, who laid out a number of hard scientific facts showing that there was no way companies could introduce safe GM foods, given the primitive and unreliable nature of the technology.I realized that the information was powerful and compelling, but it was known by very few and largely among scientific circles, so I endeavored to translate the scientific concerns into language others could understand.
I started with lectures and brochures and then the book Seeds of Deception, which became the bestselling book on GMOs. As a result, I launched the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT). I’m not against genetic engineering (GE) as a science—not against GE medicine, if the scientists understand the side effects that can occur. I’m not against gene therapy, where you correct a defective gene and save lives. I’m not against GE studies in labs. But to feed the products of this infant science to people without studying their effects and releasing them into the environment where they can’t be recalled is extremely dangerous and irresponsible.
GA/Tracy: I think many people have at least a vague knowledge of the impact GMOs have on the environment, but very few appear to understand that they also may affect human health.
Jeffrey Smith: When you look at the big picture, GMOs may be a powerful contributor to the rise of major diseases in the US: food allergies, irritable bowel, and a host of other problems. There’s a shorthand way of referring to the studies that find health concerns: The American Academy of Environmental Medicine determined that GMOs pose a significant health threat, citing several animal feeding studies showing reproductive problems, accelerated aging, gastro-intestinal disorders, immune system dysfunction, organ damage, and problems in the regulation of cholesterol and insulin.
The Academy has urged all doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets. When I speak to doctors around the country, they report seeing an increase in the incidence and severity of certain diseases, which they believe are GMO-related. Moreover, when these doctors take people off of GMO diets, they report that the symptoms—of migraines, gastro-intestinal disorders, weight problems, and more—start to disappear.
GA/Tracy: Can you give some examples of the troublesome studies?
Jeffrey Smith: The animal feeding studies for reproductive dysfunctions are astounding. Rodents that eat GM soy had changes in young sperm cells. Their testicles turned from pink to blue. The DNA function in the embryo offspring changed. In one study where female rats were fed GM soy, more than half of their babies died within three weeks, compared to a ten percent death rate in those fed non-GMO soy. The survivors from the GMO-fed group were largely infertile. In another, most hamsters fed GMOs lost the ability to have babies by the third generation. Infant mortality was also at four to five times the rate of non-GMO eaters. Mice fed GMO corn had smaller and fewer babies. This is just one topic. In other animal feeding studies, we also see toxicity in the liver and kidneys as a consistent result. Likewise, every competent test that evaluated immune-system problems in animals fed GMOs found them.
There are hardly any long-term feeding studies and no post-marketing surveillance. The only human feeding study ever conducted confirmed that the gene inserted into soybeans to make them “Roundup Ready”—or non-killable by the pesticide Roundup’s active ingredient glyphosate—transferred into the DNA of the bacteria living inside our intestines, and the transferred gene may have continued to function. The bacteria became “Roundup Ready.” These results could mean that long after we stop eating GMOs, we could have GM proteins produced inside our intestines. If the Bt toxin-producing gene from corn transfers, we might turn our intestinal flora into living pesticide factories.
GA/Tracy: There’s always this widespread assumption that if these foods were unsafe, the government wouldn’t allow them on the market. Is our government protecting us?
Jeffrey Smith: In a word, no. When you read the formerly secret internal memos of the US FDA [Food and Drug Administration] scientists at the time they were evaluating GMO policy in 1991-2, there was an overwhelming consensus that GMOs could create allergies, toxins, new diseases. The FDA scientists repeatedly warned their superiors, asking for long-term, rigorous safety studies. However, the White House had instructed the FDA to promote GMO technology. So they hired Michael Taylor, a former Monsanto attorney, to oversee the creation of GMO policy for the FDA. Under Taylor’s watch, the FDA publicly claimed it was not aware of any information saying that GMOs were different from conventional foods. On the basis of that lie, the FDA said no testing of GMOs were required, and companies like Monsanto could determine whether their own products were safe, without telling the FDA or consumers. Michael Taylor became Monsanto’s VP and is now back in the FDA as the food safety czar.
GA/Tracy: Are there any studies that say GMOs are safe?
Jeffrey Smith: Sure, but they’re most often performed by the biotech companies themselves. In Genetic Roulette, I have 41 pages showing how these companies have bad science down to a science. They rig their research—using the wrong detection or statistical methods. They dilute or overcook their samples. Animal feeding studies are too short and superficial to find anything going wrong—and things do go wrong, in spite of their best efforts, but they ignore those findings.
In one case, a Monsanto study showed that Monsanto’s GM corn varieties had no effect on health. Then a group of independent scientists re-analyzed the data and linked it to signs of organ toxicity. When the company wanted to show that milk from cows treated with rBGH [recombinant bovine growth hormone] contained very little bovine hormone, it had its scientists pasteurize the milk 120 times longer than normal. When that didn’t work, the scientists added powdered milk, pasteurized it some more, and finally destroyed 90 percent of the hormone. The FDA reported that pasteurization destroys 90 percent of bovine hormone in milk from cows treated with rBGH, ignoring the obvious flaws in study.
GA/Tracy: You’ve said we’re at a “tipping point” of consumer concern when it comes to GMOs. Can you explain?
Jeffrey Smith: There’s no consumer benefit to a GMO. They’re not like extra salt or sugar, which are under attack for health reasons but provide taste. GMOs are simply soaked in poison. They’re either herbicide-tolerant or they have an insect-killing toxin in every cell of the plant, including the food portion. No one is clamoring for a daily dose. For these reasons, we believe a tipping point can be achieved without convincing majority of US, just by giving the right information to those inclined to avoid GMOs. If GMOs become unpopular like trans-fats, why would a company keep using them? Even if a company sees a tiny drop in market share that it can point to anti-GMO sentiment in US consumers as the cause, that will be a powerful signal that it’s time to start removing GMOs from their products.
We’re seeing evidence that the tipping point is approaching. Non-GMO labels are one of fastest growing labels. There are GMO labeling bills being introduced in more than a dozen states. In fact, we’re seeing a watershed opportunity in California: There’s a ballot initiative now calling for mandatory labeling of all GM-laden foods sold in the state. If that passes—and we believe it will in November—I believe that companies would rather eliminate GMOs than admit to consumers that they’re using them.
GA/Tracy: Are the dangers reversible? How can we protect ourselves?
Jeffrey Smith: That’s the question: What about our organs, our gut bacteria, etc.? I do know that some doctors are having great results getting people off of GMOs. At least one study fed mice GM soy for eight months, and saw significant changes to the liver, pancreas, and testicles. Then, the researchers put the mice on non-GM soy for a month, and the problems started to reverse. So we have good news there. On our Web site, we have free materials, including our Non-GMO Food Guide. We have a Non-GMO Tipping Point Network where people join others to educate their communities. We’re also launching a campaign to protect children, who are most at risk, from GM foods. We invite people to participate in the non-GMO revolution.