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people are somewhat aware of the environmental issues related to
Genetically Modified Organisms, but not as many realize that there are
also a great deal of health risks associated with eating foods with
genetically engineered ingredients. More importantly, most people don't
realize the extent to which they are already in our food supply--in
processed foods, in supplements, in animal feed, and in cooking oils
used in restaurants--and the impending threat of a much larger
proliferation of GMOs looming just around the corner. GMO expert
Jeffrey Smith spent time with us to explain just what the biotech
industry doesn't want you to know--and what you can do to turn the tide
against this very dangerous technology.
The Share Guide: Jeffrey,
in your latest book, Genetic Roulette,
you discuss how animals fed genetically modified foods have developed
severe health problems, such as cancer, bleeding stomachs, intestinal
damage, and liver disease. What are the most significant health risks
standard list includes allergies, toxins, new diseases, and nutritional
problems. But because of the unpredictable nature of genetic
engineering, there could be a huge range of health problems that might
already be occurring among the population. Allergies are certainly a
major issue. Soon after genetically modified soy was introduced to the
U.K., soy allergies skyrocketed by 50%. We know that genetically
modified soy has higher levels of a known allergen, as well as the
introduction of a new protein that has allergenic properties.
soy also has higher residues of herbicide, and it appears to interfere
with the production of digestive enzymes, which could also increase the
potential for allergic reactions. There is a cross-reactivity between
soy allergies and peanut allergies, and so it may not have been a
coincidence that peanut allergies doubled in the United States between
1997 and 2002, the 5 years immediately following the introduction of
genetically modified soy.
know that many products, like corn and cotton, are genetically
engineered to produce a pesticide called BT or Bacillus thuringiensis.
The excuse for allowing these plants to be inserted with genes that
create this pesticide was that the pesticide has a history of safe use
in conventional and organic agriculture. Those making this assumption,
however, failed to take into consideration human and animal reactions
that had been recorded. For example, about 500 Americans and Canadians
reported allergic reactions, some quite serious, when they were sprayed
with BT, which was being sprayed from the air by planes to combat gypsy
moth infestation. Likewise, cotton farmers and agricultural laborers in
India are reporting the exact same allergic reaction when they harvest
this BT cotton--or even load it onto trucks, lean against it, or work
ginning factories. So we don't know if the corn that produces this BT
is also contributing to allergic reactions in humans.
do know that when sheep in India were allowed to graze on the cotton
plants after harvest, one in four sheep died within five to seven days,
with an estimated 10,000 dead sheep in the region. We also know that
farmers in the Philippines and in Germany describe how animals fed
certain varieties of GM corn died. In the United States, about two
dozen farmers say that certain varieties of BT corn cause their pigs or
cows to become sterile. (Most likely thousands of pigs were involved.)
Even Filipinos living next to a BT cornfield developed serious and
mysterious symptoms while they were breathing in the corn pollen during
the time of pollination. Blood tests verified an immune response to the
BT toxin from these villagers.
following year, when the same seeds were planted in four more villages,
the same symptoms returned during the time of pollination, when the
people were breathing in the BT pollen. And that's just allergies. We
know about reproductive problems and toxins, as well.
The Share Guide: Is
there actually research proving a connection between GMOs and food
sensitivity, autoimmune disease, and/or cancer?
Jeffrey Smith: There's
not a lot of peer reviewed animal feeding safety studies on
GMOs--perhaps about two dozen studies altogether. Research has shown
potentially pre-cancerous cell growth in the digestive tract of rats.
And scientists saw damaged and proliferative cell growth in rats that
were fed BT. We've seen immune responses in almost every animal feeding
study that has been tested for immune responses. That included
Monsanto's BT corn, an experimental potato, etc. We don't have any
studies that specifically track autoimmune disease. However, we did
find that in the case of peas that were genetically engineered (as well
as corn), that the animals developed sensitivity to formerly harmless
compounds, not just the genetically modified proteins. In other words,
it was as if it was invoking multiple chemical sensitivity in the
animals, so that products which were normally nourishing were now being
interpreted as a threat to the immune system.
The Share Guide: What
are the most common GM food ingredients on the market today? And if
people cannot afford to eat all organic foods, what are the things most
important to avoid?
Jeffrey Smith: There
are seven food crops. Soy, corn, cottonseed, and canola are the four
major ones, all used for vegetable oil. Soy and corn derivatives are
almost omnipresent among processed foods. There's also Hawaiian papaya
and a little bit of zucchini and yellow squash. In addition, there are
dairy products made from cows injected with rBGH (synthetic growth
hormone). And there are genetically modified enzymes and food additives
that are not usually listed on the label of processed foods. One
exception is aspartame, a genetically engineered sweetener which is
listed on labels. There's also milk and dairy products from animals
that have been fed genetically modified grain.
someone is seeking to limit their intake of genetically modified crop
inputs, then one can either buy organic products or buy products that
say non-GMO on their label. Otherwise, you can read the label and avoid
the ingredients that are at risk, which would include soy and corn
derivatives, vegetable oil made from soy, corn, cottonseed, or canola,
or any Hawaiian papaya. (Unfortunately, there's been a huge
contamination of papaya, even of the organic and wild papaya varieties
on the islands.) Lastly, eating nonorganic zucchini and yellow squash
will always be a risk while it's on the market unlabeled, although it's
only in small quantities. In addition to avoiding GMO crops I just
mentioned, there are varieties of sweet corn that are genetically
engineered, but it's not a large percentage.
a positive note, many dairies are now advertising or labeling their
products as free from the use of rBGH.And of course, organic
certification does not allow rBGH to be used on the cows. Also popcorn,
white corn, blue corn, and red corn are all free of genetic engineering
at this point.
The Share Guide: Regarding
the Hawaiian papaya you mentioned earlier, are you saying there's been
contamination of papaya because of cross pollination?
Jeffrey Smith: The
contamination of papaya comes from two sources. First, there's the
cross-pollination of the trees from the wind that carries the seeds.
This means that the fruit that's produced by the tree is still non-GMO,
but the seeds produced within that fruit are GM contaminated. Second,
because people eat papaya and just throw the seeds away, or throw them
out into the fields, they can grow in the wild. So people inadvertently
spread the seeds of the genetically engineered varieties.
The Share Guide: Do
you think the rise in cancer rates could be a result of GM foods?
Jeffrey Smith: Most
certainly it could be. In fact, any upturn in health problems that
corresponds with the last 10 years could be related to GM consumption.
However, it's difficult to identify and isolate, given that there's no
human clinical trials and no post-marketing surveillance. The
indications from animal studies are that there's probably several
health dangers and effects already mounting in the population.
The Share Guide: What
about other food allergies besides soy? Are those on the upswing as
Jeffrey Smith: There
are several food allergies that are on the upswing, but there's no
surveillance mechanism in the United States that carefully monitors
food allergies. We've been hearing reports from hospitals and doctors
and other experts describing this huge increase, particularly among
children, who are most susceptible to allergies. It's possible that the
ingestion of genetically modified foods could cause a sensitivity to
non-GM foods, as I mentioned before, by breaking down the normal
functioning of the immune system.
The Share Guide: What
are the risks to children and babies? Your latest book says that the
trans genes can survive digestion and be passed through the placenta
into the fetus.
Jeffrey Smith: The
transfer of genes is a very, very serious issue. The only human feeding
study ever conducted on GM foods verified that the gene inserted into
soybeans transferred into human gut bacteria DNA, and was integrated on
a stable basis. This means long after you stop eating a genetically
modified food, you might still have this foreign protein produced
inside your gut. One of the more scary examples would be if you ate a
genetically modified corn chip, and the gene that produces the BT toxin
(the pesticide) were to transfer to your gut bacteria, it could
theoretically transform your intestinal flora into living pesticide
factories…possibly for the rest of your life. In addition, genes might
also transfer into your own cellular DNA, causing it to produce foreign
proteins. Or the promoter, the so-called "on switch" which switches on
the foreign genes in these genetically modified crops, might transfer
into your own human DNA and turn on genes at random, causing them to
overproduce either a toxin, allergen, carcinogen, or anti-nutrient. We
just don't know; it's a genetic roulette!
The Share Guide: So
when you insert foreign genes into DNA, can it trigger reactions
throughout the whole DNA chain?
Jeffrey Smith: Well,
that's a different thing. What we're talking about now is the gene that
you insert into corn, for example, or soy. The way that you create that
gene and insert it tends to dismantle the normal barriers for gene
transfer-which means it optimizes the likelihood that that foreign gene
will take up residence in the DNA of your gut bacteria, and be
producing its foreign protein within you. Now, that is a very serious
long-term threat of genetically modified products. It also threatens
children, because their digestive juices are less developed, and so the
transgenic DNA may be likely to survive longer (and more of it), and
therefore, transfer more readily into the gut bacteria or possibly into
the organs. So we're creating what might be lifelong health issues by
exposing infants and children to genetically modified products. From
studies we've seen with DNA fed to pregnant mice, fragments of it ended
up in the brains of their offspring, showing that DNA can travel
through the placenta and across the blood-brain barrier.
The Share Guide: You've
mentioned damage can occur in the process of inserting a gene. Can you
Jeffrey Smith: This
is a very critical feature of the genetic engineering process, and it's
important to understand how imprecise and primitive the technology
is--and all the unpredictable ways that it can create problems. When a
scientist wants to create a pesticide-producing crop, for example, he
or she will typically take a gene out of the soil bacteria that
produces the pesticide naturally, make some changes in the gene, add a
promoter to turn it on, and an antibiotic-resistant marker gene, and
then make millions of copies of that gene and place them in a gene gun,
and then blast them into millions of cells in the hopes that some of
the genes make it into the DNA of some of those cells. They can't
evaluate which genes got the cells, so they douse all the cells with
antibiotics, killing them all except the very few that have the gene
inserted into the DNA--because there, the antibiotic-resistant marker
gene causes a cell to become invincible to a particular antibiotic.
Then they take the surviving cells and they clone them into plants in a
process called "tissue culture," which may, in turn, be cloned again to
reproduce enough available seed. The process of inserting the gene and
cloning creates massive collateral damage in the DNA.
cloning alone can cause changes in the genetic structure of 2-4% of the
DNA. That's thousands and millions of changes that can occur as a
result of the insertion process. Also, there's damage typically
adjacent to the insertion point, and fragments of other genes that can
be placed up and down the DNA. All told, you can end up increasing or
decreasing levels of proteins that are being created by normal, native
genes in the DNA. In fact, one study of a human cell showed that just
the insertion process alone caused up to 5% of all of the active genes
to change their levels of expression. This shows that there's a
holistic response to this insertion process that is not well-understood
and is completely unpredictable.
The Share Guide: So
it's not like snapping a Lego into place.
Jeffrey Smith: That's
right. It's a holistic effect. In fact, there was an article in the New
York Times recently that said the understanding that genes react
whole networks dismantles all of the safety risk assessments of GMOs
that have gone on. This basically undermines the foundation of
genetically engineered crops, which is under the assumption that a
single gene will be able to insert precisely and have only a single
effect, but there's actually a holistic effect that has not been taken
The Share Guide: You
write that when given the choice, animals avoid GM foods. How do you
think they can tell the difference, and is there any way people can
learn to recognize GMO foods the way animals do?
Jeffrey Smith: I
don't know how animals know which products are genetically engineered,
but when cows or pigs are exposed to GM corn versus non-GM corn, they
tend to eat only the non-GM corn and avoid the GM corn altogether.
Squirrels, rats, geese, deer, elk, raccoons…all of these animals have
been shown to have a strong preference when given a choice. We don't
know if it's the smell or something more subtle, but it would be
wonderful to raise humans to the level of animals. Right now we cannot
The Share Guide: Your
book Genetic Roulette also
talks about unintended changes in nutrients
that occur in GM foods. So are people unwittingly feeding their
families foods that are not as nourishing?
Jeffrey Smith: That's
a real possibility. Not only may some of the nourishing elements of
foods be reduced, but it may be that some of the medicinal qualities of
foods that haven't even been discovered yet might be eliminated--due to
the unpredicted changes in the DNA of these genetically modified crops.
The functionality of foods and how these natural products can fight
disease and improve our well-being is a new science. We have yet to
identify most of these compounds, and yet, we're making massive changes
in genetically modified crops that could increase or decrease these
compounds without our knowing it. We do know that certain products,
like genetically modified soy, have about 12 to 14% less of their
cancer-fighting properties. And they have less protein, plus higher
levels of an anti-nutrient which could block the absorption of other
nutrients. Many of these things were accepted by reviewers of these
products without question, although in most cases the nutrient changes
have not been tested or monitored at all.
The Share Guide: Most
people don't realize that there have not been extensive tests on GM
foods. Why has the FDA been so lax on this matter?
Jeffrey Smith: It
wasn't the scientists' idea to allow these foods on the market without
some significant testing. Documents made public from a lawsuit show
that the overwhelming consensus among the FDA scientists was that these
foods were inherently dangerous and could create poisons or allergens,
new diseases, or nutritional problems, and they had urged superiors to
require a long-term study. However, the FDA was under orders from the
White House to promote the biotechnology industry. Therefore, they
created a new position, the Deputy Commissioner of Policy, and hired
Monsanto's former attorney, Michael Taylor. So Michael Taylor was in
charge of policy at the FDA when the GMO policy was created. That
policy stated that the agency was not aware of any information showing
that the foods created from these new methods differed in any
meaningful or uniform way. On the basis of that one sentence the FDA
said "We require no safety studies whatsoever." If Monsanto and others
wanted to claim that their foods were safe, the FDA had no further
questions. That sentence, which was the basis of the policy, turned out
to be a lie. Not only was the agency aware of the differences of GM
foods, but this was the overwhelming consensus among their own
The Share Guide: The
consistent denials and cover-up about the health risks of GM foods
seems very similar to what went on with the cigarette industry.
Jeffrey Smith: There's
absolutely a consistent theme of denial of health risks. There's also
the rigging of research to force conclusions of safety. In Genetic
Roulette I have a whole section dedicated to showing how the
meticulously designs their studies to avoid finding problems. They have
bad science down to a science!
The Share Guide: This
has been going on longer than people realize. Many people know that the
amino acid L-tryptophan was banned from the natural marketplace for
years due to some people falling ill from it. But until reading your
book, we did not realize that this was linked to a genetically
engineered bacteria used to produce the supplement.
Jeffrey Smith: Back
in the 1980s about 100 people died, and anywhere from 5 to 10,000 fell
sick or were permanently disabled due to one brand of L-tryptophan (out
of the six brands of this supplement that were being imported into the
United States). The one brand was manufactured through a genetically
modified bacteria. It took many years to identify that there was even
an epidemic taking place, and they tracked it to specific contaminants
in this brand of L-tryptophan that almost certainly were the result of
the genetic engineering process. The FDA, however, decided to take all
tryptophan off the market, not just this particular brand, and withheld
information from the public and even from Congress about the genetic
engineering aspects of the problem. It was a sobering lesson. The only
reason that they were able to even discover the epidemic was because
the disease was rare, acute, and came on quickly. If all three
characteristics had not been in place at the same time, it is likely
that this same dangerous L-tryptophan could still be on the market
today. It begs the question: What about the current crops on the
market? Might they be contributing to common diseases, like heart
disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes? Might they also be contributing
to diseases that are not as serious, so that they could pass
undetected? Or might they be building up a disease that will take us 20
years to discover, or even until the next generation to manifest? We
don't know if the introduction of genetically modified foods is related
to the doubling of food-related illnesses in the United States between
1994 and 2001, because it may not stand out the way the tryptophan
The Share Guide: Are
any other supplements produced with genetically engineered
Jeffrey Smith: Yes,
many supplements are created from genetically engineered bacteria or
microorganisms. It is a secret among the supplement industry how
embedded they are with genetically engineered technology.
The Share Guide: Will
this come out in the labeling of GM foods starting next year?
Jeffrey Smith: Yes,
we are working on this, and helping supplement manufacturers to
understand better where the genetic engineering is and what
alternatives they have.
The Share Guide: The
situation with GMOs reminds us of another invention,
chlorofluorohydrocarbons, or CFCs. When Charles Midgley invented these
in 1928, everyone thought they were much safer than the poisonous
ammonia and sulfur dioxide gases originally used in refrigerators. It
took many years before we knew how badly they had affected the
environment. But GMOs seem to be much worse, because they're alive and
they can replicate themselves, and even if we stop now, it may be too
Jeffrey Smith: That's
right. The effects of this self-propagating genetic pollution may
outlast the effects of global warming and nuclear waste. We do not have
the technology to fully clean it up today--but that should not be an
excuse for giving up. We can certainly dramatically reduce the number
of genetically modified plants out there, even if we do not have the
ability to completely clean up the gene pool. If we don't stop it, and
we simply give up, the biotech industry has a genetically engineered
counterpart to virtually every fruit, vegetable, grain, and bean that
is being sold on the market in the United States. More than 172
different species have been field-trialed, with more than 50,000 field
trials performed in the United States alone.
stated goal of the biotech industry is to genetically engineer 100% of
the commercial seeds in the world and patent them. This was Monsanto's
ideal future, as described to Arthur Anderson Consulting. They actually
described this process at a January 1999 conference in San Francisco.
In that same meeting, another biotech representative showed a graph
projecting a 95% takeover of commercial seeds within the next 5 years.
However, within three weeks their ideal future crashed when a food
safety scandal erupted in Europe. This involved a genetically modified
food researcher named Arpad Pusztai who discovered that supposedly
harmless potatoes caused massive damage to rats. He was fired from his
job after 35 years and silenced with threats of a lawsuit. Once he was
able to speak, there was a massive rush in the media to cover the
event--which, according to one writer, divided society into two warring
blocks on the GMO issue. Within a few weeks, the consumer concern was
too much and the manufacturers committed to remove GM ingredients from
their European brand. So this kind of vulnerability of the GM industry
is what we're seeing now in the United States. Oprah Winfrey could
literally end genetic engineering in the food supply in 60
minutes--because as soon as people realize these foods are in their
diets already and how dangerous they are, they will definitely choose
non-GM ingredients. We will give them the choice through non-GMO
shopping guides, which I think will wipe out GMOs from the food supply.
treatment of Arpad Pusztai is not uncommon. In Russia, a leading
researcher in the Russian National Academy of Sciences discovered that
female rats that were fed genetically modified soy had an infant
mortality rate of over 50% within the first three weeks, compared to
only about 10% of the offspring with mothers who were fed non-GM soy.
This scientist has since been told she could not do any more GM food
research. This type of pressure has been reproduced all over the world
whenever adverse findings are found or reported.
The Share Guide: In
Europe, GM foods must be labeled, and there's so much anti-GM sentiment
that the food companies have eliminated them or changed recipes to
remove soy, corn, and other GM foods from their products. What can we
do to combat GM foods here in the United States?
Jeffrey Smith: The
first thing would be to protect yourself against the potential dangers
by adopting a non-GM diet. I also encourage people to begin GM-free
school campaigns in their region. Our video, Hidden Dangers In Kids'
Meals, combined with our 60-page manual and our free website
(ResponsibleTechnology.org) and listserv make this turnkey approach
very easy as a method of alerting the community to the health dangers.
The Share Guide: By
shopping organically you can avoid a large percentage of tainted foods,
but even if you're discerning, can you avoid everything?
Jeffrey Smith: You
can do very, very well by reading labels and knowing what to look for.
we have a list of many of the derivatives of
soy and corn, which may not be obvious, like dextrose and maltodextrin.
When eating in restaurants, it's important to ask if they use vegetable
oil which is genetically engineered--that would be soy, corn,
cottonseed, or canola--or if they cook with olive oil or other oils. If
the restaurant uses vegetable oil, I ask them to cook my food in
olive oil, or I choose a different restaurant.
more about GMOs at www.responsibletechnology.org
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