By Lisa Reagan
Jeffrey M. Smith is the head of the Institute for Responsible Technology. An internationally acclaimed filmmaker and author, his first book, Seeds of Deception, made him the world’s foremost consumer advocate for non-GMO choices. The following is part of a conversation with Kindred’s editor, Lisa Reagan. Look for the above label on foods to make sure you are buying non-GMO products!
Reagan: Welcome and thank you for talking with our readers.
Smith: Thank you for having me. It is so good to speak to parents because so many people are not as concerned about what they put in their mouths until they have kids. And kids are most at risk to the potential dangers of genetically modified food, so I am thrilled to be talking to families.
Reagan: Can you explain to our readers the difference between what our grandparents did, with cross-breeding plants and animals on the farm to create stronger varieties, and today’s genetically engineered organisms?
Smith: For centuries, we have been crossing plants and animals through natural sexual reproduction. Plants and animals in the same species carry traits from the parents to create new offspring. But in genetic engineering they can take single genes or combinations of genes from anywhere in the plant or animal kingdom, so we have insects or viruses being inserted into plants. Now, not only is this carrying genes that would never naturally be in there, so it creates new things in our food supply—it is creating new combinations that are not tested—but also the very process of genetic engineering causes massive collateral damage throughout the plant’s DNA. The natural functioning DNA is different after it is genetically modified. This includes hundreds of thousands of mutations and changes in the way the natural genes function.
This is a very primitive technology, and a very side-effect prone technology. It is something that has never been done be- fore in nature, and yet the products are being pushed onto our plates without any regard for the serious health consequences. And we’re already seeing serious health consequences in the animals and humans that are eating these foods.
Reagan: On your website, you have a list of some of the more interesting combinations. A few of them are:
- Spider genes were inserted into goat DNA, in hopes that the goat milk would contain spider web protein for use in bulletproof vests.
- Cow genes turned pigskins into cowhides.
- Jellyfish genes lit up pigs’ noses in the dark.
- Arctic fish genes gave tomatoes and strawberries tolerance to frost.
- Potatoes that glowed in the dark when they needed watering.
- Human genes were inserted into corn to produce spermicide.
Smith: These are some of my favorites. Eventually, they will try to take out the mothering gene from livestock so they won’t feel sad when they remove their children from them. It’s a mad scientist field going on right now.
Reagan: So the term “Frankenfood” is well earned. It is not an exaggeration, but an appropriate description. Why would anyone want to create corn that can produce spermicide?
Smith: They are turning plants into factories. They figure if they can insert a gene into a plant to create something they are looking for, the plant can become the factory. In theory it sounds economical, but imagine if that corn cross-pollinated. I have talked to farmers in the Midwest who have noticed that their cows and pigs were becoming sterile, and some were convinced it was the spermicidal corn that got mixed up. The idea of putting drug-making plants outdoors where they can be cross-pollinated, or moved by animals or accidentally mixed up, is one of the less intelligent aspects of this technology—which is already suffering from brain-cell deficiency.
Reagan: So, this is not a product that was or is being developed for the benefit of our children, or with their wellness in mind. From the beginning, GMO products were the result of a business plan, straight up, and you point that out in the introduction to your book, Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically-Engineered Foods You Are Eating. In your book, you talk about how Monsanto paid the consulting company Arthur Anderson to come up with a plan to help them corner the market on the world’s food supply. This plan led to Monsanto purchasing and patenting traditional seed and seed companies, engineering suicide and GMO seeds, and then not labeling these products in supermarkets so we don’t even know we’re eating them.
Smith:: You are absolutely right about this being a plan to help Monsanto fulfill their goal of converting 100 percent of the seeds in the world to become genetically engineered and patented. One of their biggest assets has been the control over the U.S. government decision mechanism. In 1999, when documents were made public through a lawsuit, what became clear was the overwhelming consensus of scientists who helped to create GMOs; they were warning the industry in 1991 of their dangers, which are allergies, toxins, new diseases and nutritional problems.
But those documents also revealed that the U.S. FDA was under orders from the White House to promote biotechnology. So their response was to create a position—a person who would be in charge of GMO policy. They gave that position to Michael Taylor, Monsanto’s former attorney and vice president, who is now the U.S. food-safety czar. When he was in charge, he ignored the scientists and allowed the foods on the market. Now, years later, their concerns have been vindicated: The American Academy of Environmental Medicine says that everyone should avoid GMOs, that every doctor should prescribe non-GMO diets, and that they are actually linked to things like reproductive problems and immune system problems, accelerated aging, gastrointestinal prob- lems, organ damage, etc. So, this business plan was a hijacking of our regulatory agencies.
Reagan: And a part of that business plan is lack of consumer awareness, and no labeling? Even if we wanted to make informed choices, there is no labeling. [Note: You can download or print out a Non-GMO Shopping Guide here.]
Smith: Yes, that is by design. And if you ask an American if they eat GMO foods, 60 percent will say no, even though most Americans are eating it at almost every meal. The FDA continues to be under orders to promote biotechnology; it is one of their explicit mandates. They ignore the desire of the 95 percent of Americans who want GMOs labeled in order to promote the eco- nomic interests of five companies. Labeling these foods would destroy the biotech industry. Even if we only had five percent of shoppers avoiding GMOs, that would be enough to eliminate GMOs from the market. Our organization is equipping consumers to do this with information and the shopping guide, so we will create a tipping point of consumer rejection to drive GMOs out of the food supply.
Reagan: How does the U.S. compare to other countries, like the European Union, Japan and Australia? Are their consumers allowed to know what they are eating?
Smith: Absolutely. They have labeling in almost every other industrialized country, but not in the U.S. or Canada. In other countries, consumers have rejected the GMO food companies and they have followed consumer demand.
Reagan: The traction consumers in other countries have been able to get with their informed choices is inspiring. However, in December 2010, a round of WikiLeaks revealed that [in 2007] our own U.S. ambassador to France, Craig Stapleton, recommended taking action against pro-informed choice activists in Europe. In the WikiLeaks document, he states, “Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voice.”
Stapleton went on to specifically recommend the U.S. government “calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits. The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory.”
So, according to this document, there is a “measured and sustainable” plan in place to wear down European consumer rights organizations who continue to make headway to preserve informed choices for their families and children. If our government is collaborating with the biotech industry, both in the U.S. and abroad, and clearly there is long-standing collaboration, then apparently we as consumers are going to need our own “measured and sustainable plan” for informed choice.
Smith: And that’s what we’re doing at the Institute for Responsible Technology. We invite people to join the Non-GMO Tipping Point Network, where they can joint up with local and national groups. The focus is to bring proper and true information out to our communities and targeted groups like healthcare practitioners and parents, schools and campuses, religious and spiritual organizations, green groups, etc. Our experience is that most Americans want to hear this knowledge. So we have audios, videos, pamphlets and books to get out to them. We have developed a measured and sustainable way of educating consumers and it is having an impact. The fourth fastest-growing food claim among all food brands this year is “Non-GMO.” I am also seeing an unprecedented number of parent groups, doctors and health food stores who are becoming actively vocal on this issue, and I have been traveling around the U.S. for eight years getting the word out.
Reagan: Your website is full of information and inspiring videos, but one of the newest programs invites everyone to become a Dragonslayer.
Smith: In the myths of dragon slaying there was always an invincible armor around the dragons, but there would always be a chink in the armor, some weak spot exploited by the dragon slayer to slay it. The biotech industry is like a dragon right now, a modern dragon, and the chink in the armor is consumer concern based on informed consumers. The biotech industry has captured the minds of politicians, farmers and mainstream media, but they know consumers are the top of the food chain. Not everyone can take up arms and travel to 32 countries like I do, but they can support us and be a part of the team. So we have this extended family of supporters who can contribute time or money or both. We are seeing an unprecedented upsurge in consumer awareness and action right now.
Reagan: For readers who want to make informed choices in their grocery stores, how can they tell the GMO products apart from Non-GMO? If you are buying certified organic, you’re safe, but I heard trying to decipher the coding on produce was a myth.
Smith: It is a myth. But what is happening now, despite federal lack of labeling laws or any regulation, companies are starting to label their own products as Non-GMO.
Reagan: Is there a simple plan of action for parents and practitioners to follow?
Smith: Well, first, I have talked to a lot of parents, and many of them say, “I can’t believe I fed my kid this!” I tell them to remember we all do the best we can, and if we don’t know, we don’t know. But worrying and fear are toxic. We don’t want to deal with two toxins, GMOs and worry. Once we know, we can get armed with a shopping guide and do much better. We do the best we can and move forward. The first thing people say when I hand them a shopping guide is, “Can I have some more to hand out to friends?”
Reagan: And this Non-GMO Shopping Guide is a downloadable app now, as well as being a pdf on your website. So, what is the simplest way for parents to get started?
Smith: There are four tips to simplify the question of what is GMO and what is not GMO. The easiest and first step is to buy certified organics, because that means it has been tested and not just labeled. Second, companies are volunteering to label their products as Non-GMO who participate in the Non-GMO Project, so they have to be verified that it means the standard Non-GMO. We have thousands of these companies listed in the shopping guide. Third, use products that are listed in our shopping guide. Fourth, avoid the at-risk ingredients, which is like a mine field when you get to processed food. You won’t know if the names of the ingredients are derived from soy or corn. Aspartame, for example, is from genetically-modified microorganisms. We have a list of those at-risk ingredients on our shopping guide.
It may seem like a lot of work for someone who is just getting into this, but it is really only a period of brand changing. You figure out what your new brand is—after removing all of the other stuff from your cupboard.
Reagan: So what is the good news?
Smith: The good news is, we are in the process of creating a tipping point. In 1999, when a gag order was lifted from GMO scientists in the United Kingdom, the press went wild, and within a few weeks the consumers knew about the risks of GMOs and refused to buy them. We have not had the benefit of a high-profile major scandal in the U.S., like they did in Europe, to bring attention to GMOs, but even a slow-burning campaign going from parent to parent in the U.S. was able to get labeling on dairy products with no bovine growth hormone, rBGH.
So now we are focusing our attention on kicking GMOs out of the food supply. For that, we have three basic messages: one, health dangers; two, how to avoid; and three, the fact that we only need five percent of U.S. shoppers—of the 95 percent who say they don’t want them—to avoid GMOs to create a tipping point. Right now we have 150 people a week in a training pro- gram learning to speak on and hold seminars on GMOs. We have an opportunity right now to be the force of change!
I ask people to choose to feel empowered by this information so they will feel not like a victim, but like a victor. We can have more control over the food we choose and not have it dictated to us by the biotech industry and its enforcers in Washington. We will all benefit when we achieve a tipping point and reclaim a Non-GMO food supply.
The full audio interview with Lisa Reagan and Jeffrey M. Smith can be found on Pathways to Family Wellness magazine’s website. Pathways Connect Gathering Groups will find the resources and citations in this article hyperlinked in the summer 2011 issue’s Dialogue and Resource Guide. Part One of this feature on GMO Mythbusting, “Beyond the Fields We Know,” appeared in Pathways 29, the Spring 2011 issue. The Institute for Responsible Technology is here. The complete Wikileaks document is available here.