1.Claire Robinson responds to Christensen's review of Genetic Roulette
2.Claire reviews Genetic Roulette
3.Claire reviews Seeds of Deception
1.Claire Robinson responds to Paul Christensen's review of Genetic Roulette
Surely the point of getting a scientist like Paul Christensen to review Jeffrey Smith's book about the hazards of GM foods, 'Genetic Roulette', is so that he can come up with some reasoned scientific arguments against it. Disappointingly, Christensen doesn't quote any science to support his sweeping claims that the book is 'short on science'. Smith's book, on the other hand, is stuffed with science supporting the notion that GM foods are hazardous to health.
Christensen implies that there is an 'existing scientific consensus' on the safety of GM foods. Yet Smith's book proves that there is no such consensus. Hordes of scientists - geneticists, epidemiologists, toxicologists, pathologists, soil biologists, and agronomists - are warning us of the risks and real harm associated with GM foods and technology. They're all quoted and their work is extensively presented in the book. You only have to read it to realize that Christensen is engaging in wishful thinking and not scientific thinking when he invokes the non-existent consensus.
Christensen also implies that unnamed 'regulators' test GM foods for safety. They have never done so. What they do is to take a quick look at summaries of research (prepared by industry) that industry scientists claim to have done (but which is often not published and open to scrutiny). Often, such summaries do not provide data on which claims of safety are based, and the data remains secret. When data is forced into the open, as a result of lawsuits or Freedom of Information legislation, the summaries are found to be wildly at odds with the data.
Christensen engages in a common industry ploy to dismiss worrying findings of research or case studies when he claims that the diversity of the observations and explanations in the book 'undermine the assertion of science-based concern'. The pharmaceutical, weapons, chemical, and vaccine industries have used the same argument of 'too many notes' (an accusation leveled against Mozart in his lifetime) when seeking to dismiss the symptoms of people who have been made sick or killed by their activities. There is nothing unscientific about diversity of observations. One action may have many effects. It's up to scientists (not Smith) to pull together some of that diversity of effects into a coherent argument. Many scientists, as Smith's book shows, have begun that process, and Smith presents their arguments. However, the continuance of those scientists' work is often frustrated by having their funding cut off or, as has been the case in several proposed studies on GM food, being denied access to the GM foods they want to test. So perhaps there are fewer cut-and-dried, undeniable arguments than Christensen demands, but that isn't the fault of GM critics, but of those who want to silence the scientists' warnings.
Indeed, for someone who claims to want more science, Christensen seems strangely determined not to engage with the science in Smith's book. 'Science,' he says, 'is looking for a pattern that consistently repeats,' and therefore, he implies, Smith's book is not science. But, in a bizarre self-contradiction, he then castigates Smith for doing just that - giving us 'new patterns in the data'! Christensen further complains that 'Genetic Roulette' 'contributes little because it does not sort out the patterns and how they are linked to plausible causes.' But this is exactly what the book does do. True, Smith hasn't set up a lab to repeat and complete all the aborted and suppressed research that found problems with GM food, but that isn't really his job, is it? In fact, Mr. Christensen, isn't that what you and your former scientific colleagues in industry were supposed to have done before releasing GMOs into our food supply?
I say 'former colleagues in industry' because according to Christensen's resume at http://www.seeds.iastate.edu/directory/paul.pdf
he was Monsanto's technical product manager for Asia from 1999-2001, and before that he worked for Dekalb Genetics, where, in his own words, he 'developed European regulatory strategy to support the approval of Dekalb transgenics'. Such closeness between industry and 'regulators', in which industry people effectively write the rules for regulators, and slide back and forth between private and public sectors, has been the rule since the launch of GM products. And the process has nothing to do with science or proof of safety. GM foods were initially approved as a result of a political directive to support the biotech industry which overrode the warnings of the US Food and Drug Administration's own scientific experts. When government and industry work together so tightly, there is no need for the 'conspiracy theories' that Christensen accuses GM critics of espousing.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of Christensen's response to 'Genetic Roulette' is that it follows to the letter the predictable arguments that biotech advocates use to try to silence GM critics, as described on page 252 of Smith's book. Two that come to mind are 'Sweeping dismissal' while avoiding responding to specific details, and 'Invoking of scientific organisations', implying that there's a consensus on safety and that regulators think GM food is OK.
If you'd like a more realistic picture of what's in Smith's book than Christensen's review yields, you can read my review of it at http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=7885 [SEE BELOW].
Or better still, read the book itself and the evidence therein, and decide for yourself!
Co-editor, GM Watch
---2.Review of Jeffrey M. Smith's Genetic Roulette: The documented health risks of genetically modified foods
Yes! Books, May 2007 Available from www.amazon.com / www.amazon.co.uk / www.geneticroulette.com * and from Green Books: http://greenbooks.co.uk/store/index.php?osCsid=42f040c6434592d845ae30e774d4a9ab&cPath=22&sort=3a&filter_id=38 *
* special case price available for 16 books
Reviewer: Claire Robinson
What's your response when someone comes out with a fatuous statement they've picked up from somewhere to the effect that 'There's no evidence that GM food is harmful'?
If you have time and energy enough, perhaps you manage to scrabble together some bits and pieces from your memory, the web, a book or an article. But considering the number of calls that the business of living places on your time and energy, maybe you just shrug your shoulders and muse that the world is going to hell in a handbasket of Bush, Blair, and Monsanto's making and there's nothing you can do about it.
Well, now there is. Just point them in the direction of the latest book from Jeffrey Smith, Genetic Roulette: The documented health risks of genetically modified foods.
A must-read for every policy-maker, educator, and journalist, it's also invaluable for anyone who wants to sharpen up their weaponry in the battle against the imposition of GM foods. And judging by the steady stream of emails I've received over the years from students in schools, colleges, and universities asking me to explain the risks of GM food, every educational institution and public library needs to buy a copy.
Of course, those who enjoyed Smith's previous book, Seeds of Deception, should be warned that this isn't the same sort of read. 'Seeds' laid out the fraud of GM through its stories: the honest scientists who were gagged, threatened, and persecuted; the revolving door between industry and regulators that led to untested GMOs being unleashed into the food supply; the consumers who got sick and died from eating a supplement produced with GM bacteria, only to have their suffering covered up by a government that cared only to protect the interests of the industry.
While Smith's last book uncompromisingly presented the science challenging the claimed safety of GMOs, the focus was on the human. The salesmen-scientists and the whistle-blowers of the GM world were shown doing what they have to do - in the case of the first, to protect their careers, and in the case of the second, to protect public health, the planet, and their ability to sleep at night. Genetic Roulette is not a book of stories, but rather an easy-to-use reference book of scientific fact and documented findings on the risks of GM foods.
It will come as no surprise to GM Watch subscribers that contrary to what the industry would have us believe, there are a considerable number of findings that show GM causes harm. Smith uses much previously unavailable material obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and has trawled through piles of industry submissions and government documents. He extracts the scientific meat and methodically lays it out for our examination, with one finding per chapter section. One section, for example, is headed, 'Mice fed Roundup Ready soy had liver cell problems'. The finding is described in full, followed by possible interpretations and comments, either by the researchers themselves or other experts.
Given the worrying lack of substantial published research, Smith also draws upon unpublished studies, case studies, medical reports, media reports, and eyewitness accounts. Unlike the notorious pronouncements of supporters of the biotech industry, interpretations and statements of opinion are never misrepresented as scientific fact. Readers will always know the status of what they are reading and the basis for it. The author has gone to great lengths to maintain accuracy of reporting, having each section of the book checked by at least three scientists.
Other sections of the book highlight serious flaws and gaps in the industry's case for GM food safety. Again, each chapter section is devoted to a particular topic, such as the ability of GM disease-resistant crops to promote dangerous new viruses. Scientific evidence for this is laid out with explanations. All points are referenced in unobtrusive footnotes.
Even those who know quite a bit about the GM issue will learn lots from this book. Perhaps this is partly due to Smith's status as a non-scientist: he does not assume specialist knowledge on the part of the reader, and explains things that many of us have become used to skimming over because of our lack of such knowledge.
For example, ever wondered why a certain batch of GM crops is called an 'event'? Smith explains that each batch is produced by inserting the transgene into the host plant cells either by the gene gun method or by infection with a bacterium. So random and disruptive is this process to the host cells that the results are different with each insertion. The process is neither repeatable nor reproducible. Scientists tell me, however, that repeatability and reproducibility are generally viewed as prerequisites to any process that claims to be scientific. In this light, the GM process as it is currently practiced is not scientific. Nor does it even qualify as engineering, as the engineering equivalent would be to try to build the Forth Bridge by tossing an assortment of girders, nuts and bolts in the general region of the Firth of Forth and letting a bunch of monkeys fiddle with them: an intelligence of a sort is at work, but the result is utterly unpredictable. Thus, even if government regulators had a road-to-Damascus conversion and actually started policing GM technology as they are supposed to, any safety tests performed on one 'event' of a GM crop would have to be repeated on all other events before the crop could be pronounced safe. Cheap GM crops for the third world, anyone?
Another interesting snippet concerns allergies to GM Roundup Ready soy. The one comforting factor when dealing with allergies to conventional foods is that once you know your poison, you can generally avoid it, and your allergic reaction ceases. But not with Roundup Ready soy. Research has shown that a portion of the transgene from the GM soy is transferred into human gut bacteria. In addition, the gut bacteria survive doses of Roundup's active ingredient, glyphosate. This indicates that the transgene continues to produce its Roundup Ready protein from within the gut bacteria. If this is so, then long after you stop eating GM soy, you may be constantly exposed to the potentially allergenic protein. The medical consequences of ongoing allergic reactions to an ingredient widely used in processed foods have not been addressed.
Conspicuous by their absence are follow-up studies to those that show harm from GM foods. The book details the tactics that industry uses to shut down or bury inconvenient research, including ignoring it, attempting to discredit the research or its authors, and funding competing studies so poorly designed that no meaningful findings can possibly be extracted. If all else fails, industry-aligned researchers discount deaths of experimental animals or claim that statistically significant results have, magically, no significance at all.
The layout of the book is an exemplar of clarity and should serve as the model for any reference book (authors of science books, please note: fewer people would give up on science if it were this easy to digest). It is designed to make the material accessible to three levels of reader: the scanner, the casual reader, and the reader who wants all the detail. Each double-page spread is devoted to a particular problem with GM foods, with the left-hand page having the topic heading, a featured quote by a scientist or expert, and a few short bullet points, and the right-hand page giving the technical detail. Scanners can take in the left-hand page at a glance; casual readers can read the main narrative on the right-hand page; and for those who need detail, there are paragraphs of indented text giving figures and examples. You don't need a science background to understand it. While the book is not bedtime reading, all terms are defined and the boggle factor is kept low. The excellent table of contents gives a one-sentence summary of each of the risks of GM foods and enables the reader quickly to access the evidence.
Smith has to be the best science communicator alive today, and this book stands as the final word on GM health risks. It's the definitive answer to those who don't know, those who don't want to know, and those who know but don't want anyone else to know.
3.SEEDS OF DECEPTION: Exposing Industry and Government Lies about the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You're Eating
by Jeffrey M Smith Yes! Books Fairfield, IA, 2003
Hardback, 289 pages ISBN 0-9729665-8-7
I confess that I picked up this book with a certain jadedness: after working with breaking GM news for several years, I didn't think there was much more that a book could tell me that my non-scientist's brain could also make sense of. How wrong I was.
Jeffrey Smith, who used to work for a GM testing company, has written the story of the GM foods scam in an account that is as compelling as it is lucid. Once I'd started it, I couldn't put it down. Smith has an extraordinary gift for writing about this complex and highly technical subject in prose that romps along as effortlessly as a railway station novelette -- but without compromising one iota of journalistic integrity or scientific rigour.
Among the glowing commendations of the book is one by Arpad Pusztai that pays tribute to Smith's presentation of the science: 'A particular strength of the book -- and this will be hated by the pro-GM lobby -- is that it uses a very colourful but easily understandable language to describe what is usually described as 'high' science. My greatest compliment is that even though I am a scientist I got some special insights into the workings of the recombinant DNA technology from Jeffrey Smith's enjoyable presentation.'
I found the book most enlightening in its revelation of the full stories behind the headlines of all the great GM frauds and disasters. If, like me before reading this book, you only know what happened in the Starlink episode from news reports, you don't know the half of it. I knew that consumers alleged that they had suffered allergic reactions to corn products that were found to contain GM Starlink corn, which was not approved for human consumption but which had got into the food chain. I knew that US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did some tests and then announced that Starlink was NOT the cause of the allergies. I knew that Val Giddings of the industry group BIO had been widely quoted in the media as saying the results meant that the case was 'slam-dunk closed'. Recently, in the wake of reports that three years after Starlink was pulled from the market it is still turning up in corn, Giddings has once more been wheeled out to mouth the industry line. '[Starlink has] been a non-trivial black eye, a self-inflicted wound we didn't need,' said Giddings. But 'not only don't we have dead bodies, we don't have headaches or a single sniffle.'
On the basis of their record of truth-telling I didn't believe Giddings or the FDA tests, but I couldn't have argued my case because I lacked the details. Smith gives us those details: the bits that didn't appear in the news reports. And as ever, the truth makes sense in a way that the mixture of half-truths and spin that reach the media does not. Baroness Greenfield complains that the public is confused about GM, but she fails to address the fact that much information about GM comes from industry, that industry lies, and that lies are always confusing. They are designed to be.
Smith tells us that five weeks after FDA's declaration of safety, scientific advisors to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) -- including leading food allergists -- released a thorough critique of the FDA's allergy tests and other aspects of the investigation. EPA concluded that 'The test, as conducted, does not eliminate StarLink Cry9C [the new protein in the GM plant] as a potential cause of allergic symptoms'. One of the major flaws EPA identified in the allergy test was that FDA asked Aventis, the makers of Starlink, to provide the Cry9C. No independent verification of the protein was obtained. In fact, Aventis did give FDA a sample of Cry9C protein, but it wasn't taken from Starlink but from E. coli bacteria. Proteins express differently in different species. Smith points out, 'they can have different added molecules (hitch-hikers), for example, or be folded differently'. Even FDA admits that this substitution could invalidate the test's results. More importantly, Cry9C created from Starlink has an added sugar chain, a hitch-hiker, which as EPA said, 'is well known to enhance allergenicity of a protein'.
Back in 1997, EPA had asked Aventis to determine the composition of the sugar chain in order to assess its allergenicity. Aventis never reported any results to the agency. What Aventis did provide was woefully inadequate. Mistakes in the document obscured the results, conclusions were at odds with the study's own data, and Aventis failed to update an out-of-date unreliable test. One frustrated member of the EPA panel commented, 'if this were presented for publication in the journals that I review for... it would be rejected.' Japanese scientist Masaharu Kawata commented on the StarLink test that 'We have found many examples of this kind of data comparison that are incomparable and may look scientific, and is the same disguised tactics used in the application for approval of Roundup Ready soybeans by Monsanto in Japan.'
Finally, EPA upheld their original assessment that there is a medium likelihood that StarLink is an allergen -- a conclusion conveniently ignored by the likes of Giddings.
Smith looks at all the major GM stories and uncovers astonishing stories of fraud and persecution of whistle-blowers. There are chapters on:
*the Pusztai affair, including the role of the Rowett head, Prof Phillip James, who banned Pusztai from talking about his GM potato research and then wrongly told the public and media that Pusztai's potatoes had been modified to include a toxin -- a mistake that has since proved more than convenient for the GM lobby;
*the l-tryptophan incident, including interviews with people who were sickened and disabled by the supplement, which was made with GM bacteria. Smith shows how FDA covered up evidence that GM was to blame, while the company that made the supplement behaved with relative openness. FDA distorted the incident to put the blame on unregulated natural health treatments and used it as an excuse to ban a supplement that had never hurt anyone in its non-GM-produced form;
*reporters Jane Akre and Steve Wilson's investigation into Monsanto's GM bovine growth hormone rbGH, including a breakdown of how Monsanto tried to force Akre and Wilson to change their report to make rbGH sound less dangerous. One tactic was to 'demote' GM-sceptical scientist Dr William von Meyer by stripping him of his numerous credentials gained from years of testing the effects of chemicals on humans. The Monsanto version of the script referred to him simply as a 'scientist in Wisconsin' -- for all we know, a wild-eyed eccentric with a few test tubes bubbling away in a rural garage.
Now we know: it's no accident that supposedly balanced TV and radio programmes about GM name all the scientific credentials of the pro-GM spokespersons and show them looking important and serious in their labs, whereas the anti-GM voices are worried housewives and angry bearded greenies shown chopping veg in their kitchens or ripping up crops in a field. References by anti-GM spokespeople to scientific research are edited out; all that's left is the 'emotive' element that the pro-GM lobby uses as a stick to beat us with.
The biotech industry wants us to see and swallow such messages, products of a spin machine they hope remains in the shadows. Smith gives us a clear vision of what they don't want us to see: a master plan by corporations to take over the control of the world's food supply. At a 1999 industry conference, a consultant from Arthur Anderson Consulting Group explained how he helped Monsanto create that plan. He asked Monsanto to describe what their ideal future looked like in 15-20 years. Monsanto executives described a world in which 100% of all commercial seeds were genetically modified and patented. Anderson worked backwards from that goal and developed the tactics to achieve it. Those tactics are laid bare in this book. Smith interviews courageous scientists and officials who were expected to fall in with the plan but wouldn't - and there are more of them than you might think -- often paying with their reputations and careers.
Sprinkled between the big GM stories are fascinating anecdotes that Smith has evidently picked up from his privileged position on the fringes of the industry. We read of a biochemist's shocked response at an industry conference to a company's vaunting of a GM tomato that looks fresh 150 days after it's picked: 'I have a problem. If this doesn't rot or decay in 150 days, then what have you done with the nutrient value?' The industry honcho refuses to answer in front of the other delegates, but leads the biochemist outside the room and says: 'We're not interested in the nutritive value. What we're interested in is if it's picked now, will a housewife buy it in 180 days?'
If such stories strike a chill into your heart, you can warm it up again by reading the inspirational chapter on how former prisoners and disruptive schoolchildren in Wisconsin turned their lives around JUST by changing their diet. Out go the junk foods, in come the fresh unprocessed foods. One judge even 'sentences' new probationers to the healthy diet, warning them that if they don't stick to it they'll be back in trouble, and then it'll be jail. One previously violent school has seen no incidents of weapons, drugs, suicides, dropouts or expulsions in the five years since it put its students on the program. The story shows that the sort of people we become and the sort of societies we inhabit depend heavily on the quality of the food we eat. All the more reason for genetic engineers and their friends in government to take responsibility and end their insane acts of terror against our food.
Whether you know nothing, a little, or a lot about GM, Seeds of Deception is one book you cannot afford to pass over. You can lend it to your parents, your friends, the local farmer, your Member of Parliament and even your doctor in confidence that they will emerge informed and immunised against all the lies they will hear about the 'safety' of GM foods.