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  You are here:  PublicationsMaine Organic Farmer & GardenerWinter 2008-2009Jeffrey Smith Keynote   
 Jeffrey Smith on the End of Genetically Engineered Foods Minimize

Jeffrey Smith
Jeffrey Smith told of Monsanto scientists who switched to drinking organic milk when they learned about the dangers of Monsanto’s recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (now owned by Eli Lilly); about research showing health dangers from genetically engineered foods; and about a plan to get genetically engineered foods out of the market. English photo.

Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette, was the keynote speaker at MOFGA’s Common Ground Country Fair on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2008. The following is a summary.

Smith began by explaining why GE foods even exist in our markets: “We have the FDA to thank for that … a single sentence in the FDA’s 1992 policy… is why GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are here. It says the agency is not aware of any information showing that the foods created by these new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.”

The Monsanto Connection

That 1992 statement about substantial equivalence of GE foods was shown to be a lie after a lawsuit released documents showing that even FDA scientists overwhelming questioned whether GMOs could create allergies, toxins, new diseases or nutritional problems, Smith said. The FDA scientists urged their superiors to require long-term safety studies. However, they were ignored by the person in charge of FDA policy, Michael Taylor – a former Monsanto attorney and subsequent Monsanto’s vice president.

Based on “substantial equivalence,” Monsanto does no safety testing for the FDA and does not have to tell the FDA that it’s going to introduce a GE crop. “It’s up to Monsanto to determine if the foods are safe,” said Smith; “up to the company that gave us Agent Orange, PCBs, DDT.

A former Monsanto scientist told Smith that three of his Monsanto colleagues who studied Monsanto’s recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) switched to drinking organic milk. The scientist also said Monsanto tried to massage data from animal feeding studies that showed responses to GE crops. “Rigging research turns out to be a huge pastime” at Monsanto, said Smith. “They’ve got bad science down to a science.”

Another former Monsanto representative told Smith that he was recruited by Monsanto and took the position after reading former Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro’s words about how GMOs would alleviate world hunger, for instance. He described these promises during the new employee orientation meeting, after which a vice president told him that what Robert Shapiro says is one thing; what Monsanto does is something else: “We’re here to make money.”

When this [now] former employee told Monsanto scientists that their GE cotton produced proteins that could harm animals, he was ostracized within the company and ignored by the agricultural commissioner in California and professors at universities. He left the company.

Studies and Anecdotes

Only one company gave raw feeding study data to the FDA, said Smith: The makers of the Flavr Savr tomato – even though test rats refused to eat the tomatoes. When force-fed the tomatoes, seven of 20 rats developed stomach lesions; another seven of 40 died within two weeks and were replaced in the study.

Many reports describe how cows, pigs, deer, elk, raccoons, squirrels, geese, mice and rats avoid GM feed when given a choice.

The U.K. initiated animal feeding studies to prove that GMOs were safe. The world’s top scientist in his field, Dr. Arpad Pusztai, working at the leading U.K. research institute in nutrition and with 20 others in three institutes, created a protocol and then put Pusztai’s own GE potato through that protocol. They fed a complete and balanced diet, and the potato, containing a gene from the snowdrop plant that created a pesticide, to a group of rats; another group got natural potatoes; a third got natural potatoes spiked with the insecticide that the GE potato was engineered to produce.

Only the GE potato harmed the rats, which developed potentially precancerous cell growth in the digestive tract; smaller brains, livers and testicles; atrophy of the liver; damaged immune systems – in 10 days. Rats eating the potato spiked with the same pesticide had no problem, so the process of genetic engineering apparently caused the problem.

The Smoking Gene Gun

To engineer, say, a corn plant to produce its own pesticide, scientists remove a gene from the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) bacterium, make millions of copies of it, then put it into a gun and shoot the copies into millions of cells, hoping that some genes get into the DNA of some cells. The cells are cloned in tissue culture and grown into a crop that has the pesticide-producing gene in every cell of every plant--and in every bite.

This process “creates massive collateral damage in the DNA,” said Smith. Two to four percent of the genome expresses mostly unpredicted mutations; and up to 5% of the natural genes in the DNA change their levels of expression. Such changes “can create allergies, toxins, new diseases and nutritional problems” – the same problems that FDA’s scientists anticipated. The resultant GE crops are grown and consumed with no human clinical trials, no long-term animal feeding studies and no post-marketing surveillance.

When Pusztai discovered that GE potatoes damaged rats, he publicized his concerns, becoming a hero at his prestigious institute – for about two days. Then the pro-GMO U.K. prime minister’s office allegedly called the director of the institute, who fired Pusztai, silenced the 35-year employee with threats of a lawsuit and smeared his reputation. The 20-member research team was disbanded. Long-term safety protocols were never instituted. After seven months, Pusztai was invited to speak before Parliament, the gag order was lifted, his data were returned and published in The Lancet.

Eating Concentrated Bt Toxin: Many Consequences

The industry says that GE Bt toxin is completely safe; that Bt is used in organic agriculture and in forestry; that it’s destroyed in the digestive tract of mammals and it doesn’t have any receptor cells. However, some 500 people in the Pacific Northwest developed allergic-type reactions when exposed to Bt sprayed for gypsy moths. Mice fed Bt developed an immune response equal to that from cholera toxin, and their intestines were damaged. Yet the Bt engineered into crops is thousands of times more concentrated than the natural form.

Likewise, hundreds of Indian farm workers who pick Bt cotton developed allergic-type reactions with the same symptoms as those of the 500 people sprayed with Bt.

When sheep grazed on Bt cotton plants after harvest in India, one out of every four died within five to seven days. Ten thousand sheep died in the Andhra Pradesh region one year, more the next year. The Indian state government now advises not grazing sheep on GE cotton plants.

Certain varieties of Bt corn have reportedly caused sterility in pigs and killed cows, water buffalo, horses and chickens. People in five Filipino villages blame the Bt toxin in corn pollen for skin, respiratory and intestinal reactions and fever.

A Monsanto study, revealed after a lawsuit, indicated toxicity in the liver and kidneys of rats, and possible disease.

Not Quite Ready for Roundup Ready Crops

What about Roundup Ready (RR) crops? Smith noted that soon after GE, herbicide-tolerant soy was introduced to the U.K., soy allergies jumped by 50 percent; that a Monsanto study showed that cooked GE soy contained up to seven times more trypsin inhibitor (an allergen) than non-GE soy; that in a skin prick test, one person reacted to GE soy but not to non-GE soy. The RR protein, he added, has properties of a dust mite allergen. Also, herbicide tolerant crops contain more herbicide residues.

Monsanto developed RR crops after finding bacteria in a chemical waste dump near its factory that were not dying in the presence of herbicide. The bacterial gene that produced the protein that allowed it to survive in the presence of Roundup herbicide was inserted into soy, corn, cotton and canola. When these crops are sprayed with Roundup, all plants except the resistant crop are killed. As a result, some 258 million pounds more herbicide have been used in the last 11 years.

When mice ate RR soy, their digestive enzymes were suppressed up to 77 percent – giving a longer time for allergic reactions to the protein. RR soy also affected cells in the liver, pancreas, testicles and sperm of mice, and DNA expression in their embryos.

A senior researcher at the Russian National Academy of Sciences fed rats GE soy starting two weeks before conception. More than half the offspring died within three weeks, compared with a 10% death rate when mothers ate non-GM soy. This study was repeated three times and published in Ecosinform in Russia, but the research stopped when the facility switched to a GM soy-based chow. Within two months the infant mortality rate of rats at the facility jumped to over 55%, and the researchers was told, “No more GM studies.”

Smith explained that when researchers blast genes into a plate of cells, they don’t know which genes end up in the DNA of the cells; so they blast an antibiotic-resistant marker gene in with the desired gene, then douse the cells with antibiotics, killing all but the few that have the antibiotic-resistance gene. “We don’t know where it ended up” or if it knocked out genes or turned genes on or off permanently, said Smith.

Crops cloned from GE cells contain the antibiotic-resistant gene in all their cells, even though the FDA has said that introducing an antibiotic resistance gene into the intestinal flora of the general population would be a serious health hazard. Those genes might transfer to gut bacteria, mate with pathogenic bacteria, and create diseases untreatable by antibiotics.

When seven humans who had colostomy bags after having their lower intestines removed volunteered to eat GE soy burgers and soy milkshakes, intact GE soy survived passage through their stomach and small intestine. Three of the seven, even before consuming the GE foods, had Monsanto’s RR gene in the DNA of their gut bacteria – apparently from previous RR meals. “So their gut bacteria was Roundup Ready,” Smith noted. Smith wondered whether our gut bacteria might become living pesticide factories after we eat Bt foods.

Untraceable Potential Reactions

When Health Canada tried to monitor the effects of GE foods in humans, it gave up; the task was too difficult. However, in “a sobering lesson from the 1980s,” said Smith, a GE brand of the supplement L-tryptophan was contaminated, almost certainly because of the GE process. It killed about 100 Americans and sickened up to 10,000. L-tryptophan was discovered as the cause of the epidemic because the symptoms were new, unique and acute, forcing people to get medical help. “What if it were cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes?” asked Smith. “That L-tryptophan would still be on the market.” He wonders if GE foods are related to the doubling of food-related illnesses in the United States between 1994 and 2001, or the increase in obesity, diabetes and autism.

Getting the Word Out

Smith encouraged people to learn about GE foods through his books, Genetic Roulette and Seeds of Deception. He has challenged the biotech industry to respond to the 65 health risks described in Genetic Roulette – “but I also predicted in the book that they would never respond, themselves, voluntarily, because they lose when they argue the details. Their justifications for GMOs are largely based on assumptions, rigged research or lies.”

Smith anticipated how the biotech industry would respond, including personal attacks. In fact Smith was personally attacked in the Maine media by Douglas R. Johnson of the Maine Biotechnology Information Bureau. Johnson wrote that Pusztai’s research on potatoes was published in a major magazine and then retracted, when the study was actually published in The Lancet and never retracted; that StarLink corn, which contaminated the human food supply, was obviously not an allergen – but the best U.S. allergists actually said that there is a medium likelihood that StarLink is an allergen; and that the death rate among rats fed GM soy in the Russian study was never published – but it was, in Ecosinform, 2006, Vol. 1.

Smith challenged Johnson to provide independent, rigorous, scientific data to counter the 65 health risks, predicting that “I will not receive a single sentence.”

The End of GE Foods is Near

About two and a half years ago, so many consumers began avoiding milk from cows treated with rBGH that many top retailers stopped selling it, and Monsanto just sold that division of its company to Eli Lilly. Smith believes that a tipping point of consumer rejection of GMOs will occur by the end of 2009 as shoppers learn that GMOs are harmful.

“I think if 5% of U.S. consumers, 15 million people, 5.6 million households, conscientiously start avoiding GM ingredients in all of their brands that they purchase, then it will be taken out of the food supply.”

Already, nine out of 10 Americans want GMOs labeled, and 53% would avoid GMOs if they were labeled. So, Smith’s Institute for Responsible Technology (responsibletechnology.org) producing a Non-GMO Shopping Guide and is shipping information about GE foods and alternatives to religious groups, health care practitioners, school support groups and health-conscious shoppers.

The Institute offers many resources and is distributing the video The World According to Monsanto, amended with the Institute’s solutions to the GE foods problem. Retailer “education centers” will be sent to all natural food stores, which will be asked to sponsor free public showings of The World According to Monsanto.

Questions and Answers

Asked about getting GMOs “out of the biosphere,” Smith noted that when StarLink corn contamination was discovered in 2002, the crop had been planted to less than 1% of U.S. corn acreage – but its genetic material was found in 22% of samples tested by the USDA. Three years later it was still in 1.2% of samples tested. We can’t get rid of it completely, said Smith, but we can reduce it dramatically.

He noted that The Non-GMO Project has a standard for third-party verified non-GMO claims, which nearly all major natural food manufacturers are using; and that the natural food industry is removing remaining GMO ingredients from products this year. “We can drive down the levels of contamination by getting more purified seed, etc.; by testing from seed to fork.”

Asked if we can feed the world without GMOs, Smith said that the average GE crop reduces yield, according to USDA reports, and that the two major traits – herbicide tolerance and pesticide production – are not designed to feed the hungry world.

Smith said to visit responsibletechnology.org to get The Non-GMO Shopping Guide. The four major GM foods are soy, corn, cotton and canola; three minor ones are Hawaiian papaya, zucchini and crookneck squash. Popcorn, white corn and blue corn are not engineered. A small amount of sweet corn is. Roundup Ready sugar beets were planted this year, “so unless we can stop them, by the end of this year our sugar supply will have been contaminated with sugar from genetically engineered sugar beets.”

Asked if the Supreme Court will revoke the right to patent life. Smith noted that biotech firms get patents based on unique, new discoveries, then tell the FDA that the new products are “substantially equivalent” to other foods. He cited people’s outrage when researchers studying genes involved with breast cancer were told to cease that work or pay high fees to work on those patented genes. Likewise, U.S. companies have patented traditional products of other countries without making any change to the products. “When people realize how devastating this patent grab is, we may not have to wait for the Supreme Court; we may end up getting a Congressional change making it illegal to operate the way that they’re operating.”

Asked about colony collapse disorder of honeybees, Smith said that GE crops aren’t the primary cause of the problem but may be responsible for the incremental increase that we have in the United States. The systemic chemical seed treatment neonicotinoid, banned in four European countries, has been linked to bee die-off; and when bees collected pollen from GE Bt corn, their hives suffered from a common infection, so Bt pollen likely compromises the immune system of bees.

– Jean English

    

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