Jeffrey Smith interview: ''Truth Triumphs''
By: Chris Attwood
Jeffrey Smith is the author of Seeds of Deception, the world's bestselling book on the dangers of genetically modified foods and the recently released Genetic Roulette.
CHRIS ATTWOOD: Now you had a pretty clear idea when you wrote Seeds of Deception that there were some serious things that needed to be addressed, but were you surprised as you did your research, as you went deeper, by anything that you discovered? Can you tell us any stories of the things that you found as you wrote these two books?
JEFFREY SMITH: There are two things. There's the most shocking evidence of health dangers, but just so people are clear about what genetically engineered foods are”¦
CHRIS ATTWOOD: Yes, please.
JEFFREY SMITH: GM foods, genetically modified foods, are foods in which genes from one species are transferred into the DNA of another species. Some of the more bizarre combinations are that they’ve taken genes from spiders and put them into goats in the hopes that they can milk the goats to get spider web protein to make bulletproof vests. That’s true.
CHRIS ATTWOOD: Wow.
JEFFREY SMITH: They've put genes from jellyfish into pigs so that their noses glow in the dark. They’ve put human genes into rice, which is now growing in Kansas, to produce pharmaceutical medicines for children. For the crops that they’re growing around the world-principally soy, corn, cotton and canola-they take genes from bacteria and viruses so that the crops do not die when sprayed with the company’s herbicide, or they produce their own pesticide.
By the way, your question is excellent because that’s the question I always ask to scientists-What is their most shocking moment?-because I want to write a book of shocking moments. Let''s start with that. I asked a scientist who had been fired from his job after 35 years, silenced with threats of a lawsuit, when he discovered that genetically engineered foods caused significant damage to laboratory animals.
What I asked him was what was the most shocking moment? It wasn’t being fired from his job, it wasn''t discovering the problems. It turned out it was months earlier when he was still a pro-GM scientist in good standing, and was asked to review the scientific papers that got GM crops approved in the UK. He said reading those studies was one of the most shocking moments in his life, a turning point in his life, because he realized how bad the research was.
He said what they're trying to do is as little as possible to get their foods on the market as quickly as possible. That was his most shocking moment. Then I asked another person what his most shocking moment was. This was a professor at UC Berkeley. He said he was threatened by a senior Mexican government official who implied, ''We know where your children go to school,'' trying to get him not to publish evidence that genetically engineered corn had contaminated crops in Mexico.
There are a lot of shocking moments like that, a lot of real X-File type conspiracy things that turn out to be true. As far as the more shocking moments in terms of what can go wrong with genetically engineered crops, I'll give you a couple. In the only human feeding study every conducted it showed that genes that are inserted into genetically engineered crops transfer into the DNA of the gut bacteria inside our intestines.
This means that long after you stop eating genetically engineered foods, your own gut bacteria might be producing these foreign proteins, which might be allergenic or toxic or carcinogenic. In fact, I mentioned earlier that there are some crops””corn, for example””engineered to produce its own pesticide with a gene inserted into the DNA from bacteria.
If that pesticide-producing gene transferred from some corn chip that you ate into your gut bacteria, it might turn it into living pesticide factories, possibly for the rest of your life. These are really shocking discoveries on the health side, and what’s also shocking is that these types of problems have never been adequately tested to see how it’s affecting human beings.
CHRIS ATTWOOD: Jeffrey, are genetically modified foods all bad? I mean, the story that we’ve been told is that genetic engineering is the next great revolution and it’s going to make food abundantly available to people throughout the earth. Is that all not true?
JEFFREY SMITH: The current generation of genetically engineered crops is a very primitive technology based on obsolete science that causes massive collateral damage in the DNA that can change proteins and natural compounds in ways that we could never predict. It’s an unstable technology and it was rushed to the market before the science was ready. Now this does not mean that sometime in the future we will not be able to safely and predictably manipulate genes in food and crops for the benefit of mankind and environment.
We are nowhere near that space now. We can link these crops to thousands of sick, sterile and dead animals, thousands of toxic and allergic reactions in humans, and damage to virtually every system and organ studied in laboratory animals. Also, I take no position on human gene therapy where the risk ratio is very different. You’re just making a change in one person’s gene and that person is risking their life, but we’re not risking the lives of a generation.
We’re not risking the lives of future generations. This is self-propagating genetic pollution. Once you put a GM crop into the environment it can transfer to non-GM crops, it can transfer to wild relatives and persist in the environment, generation after generation, outliving the effects of global warming and nuclear waste. We’re not saying that genetic technology per se is bad, but the current application into foods and crops is simply driven by profits and is risking the health and environment.
CHRIS ATTWOOD: Now the FDA is set up to supposedly protect us from these things. How did these foods manage to get approved and get into our food supply and past all of these protections that we’re supposed to have?
JEFFREY SMITH: Excellent question. It turns out that the FDA’s policy written in 1992 claimed that the agency was “Not aware of any information showing that the foods created from these methods differ in any meaningful or uniform way.” That’s the quote in their policy upon which they made the statement that they don’t need to test anything, “If the biotech companies tell us that these foods are safe, there are no further questions by the FDA.”
It’s simply a hands-off policy. Now this concept that the agency was not aware of any information showing that the foods were different turned out to be a lie. We didn’t know it at the time, but 44,000 documents from the FDA’s files were made public due to a lawsuit. It turns out that the overwhelming consensus among the FDA’s own scientists were that the foods could create allergies, toxins, new diseases, nutritional problems. They had urged their superiors to require long-term studies, but were ignored.
The reason was that the FDA was under orders from the first Bush Administration to promote the biotechnology industry, and so the FDA put the person in charge of policy at the FDA, they took Monsanto’s former outside attorney””Monsanto’s the large biotech company””and put him in charge of FDA policy during the time that the GMO policy was being created.
Afterwards, this man, Michael Taylor, then took a position as Monsanto’s vice-president, so really it was industry regulating, or in this case non-regulating, themselves and so the FDA really has no required studies and safety testing whatsoever.
CHRIS ATTWOOD: Is the impact of genetically modified foods limited? You mentioned cotton, soybeans, corn, a few other things. Is it limited to those or is it broader?
JEFFREY SMITH: There are four major crops””soy, corn, cotton and canola””and there are three minor food crops””Hawaiian papaya, a little bit of zucchini and little bit of crookneck squash. Now the tomatoes that were on the market years ago were taken off the market, the potatoes were taken off the market. There’s an industry that wants to introduce genetically modified sugar beets next year.
There have been more than 170 different species of crops that have been tested in field trials, and many more developed in the laboratory. The stated goal of Monsanto’s executives, years ago, to their consultant, for their ideal future was to genetically engineer 100% of all commercial seeds in the world and patent them. That was how they developed their plans. Another biotech company also, in 1999, projected that within five years they would see a takeover of 95% of all commercial seeds in the world within five years.
Fortunately, there was an eruption in Europe a few weeks later, and the concern by consumers there forced the food industry to promise, “We’re not going to be selling genetically engineered ingredients in our foods in Europe.” That has stopped it to these four major crops grown in six countries with two major traits instead of the entire food supply. There’s also milk from cows treated with genetically engineered Bovine Growth Hormone, which is put out by Monsanto to increase milk supply of cows.
It also has very grave health risks associated with it, for example, an increase of a hormone that’s linked to cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, et cetera. Fortunately, we’re seeing the same kind of consumer rejection that they saw in Europe against this Bovine Growth Hormone right now. Major companies like Publix, Starbucks, Kroger and others are rejecting all milk from cows treated with this dangerous genetically engineered drug.
CHRIS ATTWOOD: Now you mentioned Europe, and as we said earlier, you’ve traveled around the world. Why do you think that consumers in Europe have been so much stronger about rejecting genetically modified foods versus consumers in America?
JEFFREY SMITH: Because they know about it. It’s interesting that in 1999, this scientist, the one I had interviewed earlier who gave me his shocking moment, was silenced with threats of a lawsuit from his former employer. He was working on a UK government grant to develop a testing protocol for GM crops that was rigorous. When he discovered it was actually is dangerous, he was muzzled and his protocol was never implemented.
Just after the biotech industry had claimed that they were going to be taking over the food supply in five years, his gag order was lifted by an act of Parliament. Within the week, 159 column feet of material was written about it in the press and within the month, 750 articles. One editor said that it divided the society into two warring camps on the GM issue.
With the controversy stirred in the press, people hearing about the health risks, and hearing about the way it hasn’t been tested for food safety, it was too much for the consumers and so they were resisting it. In April of 1999, Unilever, Britain’s largest food manufacturer, committed to remove GM ingredients from the European brands and within a week, so did virtually every other major food company.
Now by comparison, these same companies do not remove GM ingredients in the United States, where only one in four are even aware that they’ve ever eaten a genetically engineered food in their lives. If you ask people, “Have you ever eaten a GM food?” 60% say no, 15% say, “I don’t know.” The foods continue to be sold and the biotech industry prospers on the basis of consumer ignorance.
If some event or issue would raise this topic onto the national radar screen, or if even just a small percentage of shoppers started making their choices for non-GM products and actually started knowing which products were genetically engineered and avoiding them, that would be enough to cause the tipping point, that landslide that we saw in Europe and the tipping point that we saw with Bovine Growth Hormone.
The real issue is, not only that the United States consumers don’t know much about it because they haven’t been told by the press, but if they did know about it, we could get rid of this stuff very quickly.
CHRIS ATTWOOD: Now why aren’t genetically modified foods labeled? We have some of the strictest labeling requirements in the world in America. Why don’t we know which foods are genetically modified just by looking at the labeling on our packages?
JEFFREY SMITH: According to several lawyers, it’s actually this concept that it should be labeled violates those strict laws and the FDA is doing it because they have been told by the White House to promote the biotechnology industry. It is a stated official goal of the FDA. They know that nine out of 10 Americans want GM foods labeled, and they also know that more than half would choose to avoid GM foods if they were labeled, which would kill the biotech industry in terms of food.
They have decided to ignore the desires of nine out of 10 Americans to support the financial interests of six agricultural biotechnology companies. It’s a real shame, but unfortunately that’s the equation and how it’s working.
CHRIS ATTWOOD: Who are those major players? Who are the major biotech firms behind genetically modified foods?
JEFFREY SMITH: Monsanto has the patents to about 90% of all the acreage planted. There’s also Syngenta, Bayer CropScience, Dow, DuPont and BASF. Those are the only six that have commercialized food crops in the United States and Europe, etcetera.
CHRIS ATTWOOD: Earlier, you talked about that there are risks associated, or that we don’t know the impact of certain genetic modifications. Are there actual cases where harmful effects have been seen or studied or results have been observed as a result of genetic engineering?
JEFFREY SMITH: Absolutely. The earliest one happened in the 1980s. About 5,000 to 10,000 people got sick with a horrible, debilitating disease. About 100 people died. It was traced to a food supplement called L-tryptophan, but only one brand of the tryptophan and that was the brand that was genetically engineered by a company in Japan. We also know that, because there’s no post-marketing surveillance of genetically engineered foods in the United States, no clinical trials, we have to look at correlations in other evidence.
We know that soon after genetically modified soy was introduced to the UK, soy allergies skyrocketed by 50%. We know many ways in which genetically modified soy might increase allergies. In fact, there’s a least one study that shows people who have a skin-prick reaction test only to the GM soy, but not to the non-GM soy. We know that the cotton that produces its own pesticide, when farm workers harvest this cotton, load it, even lean against it, they describe really bad allergic reactions, hundreds of them.
They’re the same type of allergic reactions that we would predict for people being exposed to this pesticide. When they let sheep graze after harvest on these cotton plants, one in four sheep died within a week, about 10,000 sheep in total. We know that about two dozen farmers say that their pigs or cows became sterile as a result of genetically engineered corn. We know other farmers who say their animals died as a result of eating the corn.
We have laboratory studies showing higher death rates, stomach lesions, problems like that. One of the most shocking studies came out of Russia, where they fed genetically modified soybeans, the same that are approved in the United States and that we eat every day, to Russian rats””these were mother rats””and after giving birth, 56% of the offspring died within three weeks, compared to only about 9% of the offspring when the mothers were fed natural soy.
There was also a very lower birthrate and poor health, and the offspring couldn’t get pregnant from the offspring of the mothers who were fed the GM soy. In mice that were fed GM soy, they showed changes in their young sperm cells and also changes in embryo DNA expression, so we see changes that can result in the next generation very clearly in the research, but this has not been studied in human beings, so it’s much safer just to avoid these foods.
CHRIS ATTWOOD: It’s so interesting that with all these sorts of things that there aren’t clinical trials or clinical laboratory testing going on of these foods in the US. Do you attribute this solely to the impact or the leverage that these six large companies have?
JEFFREY SMITH: Absolutely. According to US law, it’s a food additive that should have been tested thoroughly and labeled, but it’s because of the influence of the biotechnology companies. One person at the FDA said that in this regard, the regulatory agencies have done everything that Big Ag business has asked them to do and told them to do. Yes, it is also their influence in other regulation schemes like in Europe and in Brazil.
I’ve been to many of these places and I’ve talked to these regulators, and it turns out that we’re seeing the same kind of influence there that we saw here. It’s really the biotech industry that’s dictating terms. They’re even telling the regulators, “We can’t afford it. If you have us test our foods like a pharmaceutical, we couldn’t afford them because there’s not enough profit, and you wouldn’t be able to have them in your society so you would lose out.
The only way that you can win and become profitable and competitive in biotechnology is to let us do our own testing and you review it. It can’t be extensive and it can’t be long-term. It has to be under these conditions.” Now in part of my book, Genetic Roulette, I describe the state of their testing and how they have very carefully and masterfully rigged research to avoid finding problems, how they have gotten bad science down to a science.