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Genetic Modification

Posted by tinako on August 17, 2010

I just finished reading Jeffrey M. Smith’s Seeds of Deception, about genetically modified foods (GM or GMOs).  This is a new topic for me, and I chose the book because I wanted to learn what the fuss was about.

I began reading with these assumptions:

  1. GMOs are pretty much equivalent to food from plants bred using natural selection.
  2. They have been tested.
  3. They are helping with feeding the world’s expanding population.
  4. People who are opposed to GMOs just don’t trust science or want change.  Luddites.

Before I read the book, I was glad that the organic products I buy are non-GMO, but mostly because I don’t like how Monsanto, the goliath GMO seed company, bullies farmers.  I didn’t really have an opinion on GMOs health effects.

Having finished the book, I have come to question all four of those assumptions, which is a pretty big deal if we’re eating them.  I mean,

  1. They have been pretty clearly proven to not be equivalent to natural foods, at least when anyone has bothered to check.
  2. There have been very few tests for safety because of assumption #1.  When they have been tested, either the tests were so skewed as to falsely give an impression of safety, data showing unsafe outcomes was dropped, or the whole experiment proving harmful effects was mis-summarized or ignored.
  3. Smith says that world feeding organizations say that there is plenty of food, and malnutrition comes from poor distribution.  Smith didn’t seem to address future projections, which I understand are not so rosy, so I would still have questions about that.  But I don’t see the point in feeding the world unsafe food.  Michael Pollan discusses a related issue in his NY Times article “The Great Yellow Hype.”
  4. Most people pushing GMOs (heads of FDA, USDA, EPA, Monsanto, media) are doing so for reasons having nothing to do with your health and with very little basis in science.  People opposed to GMOs include many scientists at FDA, who are silenced by bosses who are not scientists, but more likely lawyers, and more interested in politics than science.  I knew that USDA was a sham front for the industries it is their job to both regulate and promote (an impossible task), but I did not know that pretty much the exact thing goes on at FDA.  To have our USDA food pyramid manipulated by industry and unhealthy foods dumped in our school lunch program is a disgrace, but the personal consequences are avoidable by ignoring USDA’s nutrition recommendations and packing school lunches.  But to find out that FDA is doing the same thing, that they see it as their job to promote biotechnology, is nothing short of shocking.

In his chapter “What could go wrong?” Smith explains 21 different ways genetic modification can be messed up, not by carelessness but by the dauntingly complicated genome, causing unintended dangerous effects in the foods we eat.  Have any of these things gone wrong?  Does our food have these effects?  For the most part, no one knows, because no one has looked for them.  If you ask anyone who promotes GMOs, they will just answer with assumption #1, GMOs are the same as natural foods.

Sometimes GM promoters will say Americans have been eating these foods and nothing has gone wrong.  What a comforting thought, that we have been unpaid lab test subjects, but actually, the statement is not true.  How about L-Tryptophan?  People taking this supplement began getting the horrible new disease EMS.  The affected supplements were traced back and it turned out that only GM L-Tryptophan was affected.  Not that the average person would know this, because there is no labeling requirement.  But this experience disproves not only the statement that Americans’ health has not been affected, but also that GM and natural products are the same.  More info on L-Tryptophan.  Smith goes on to make the point that EMS was a totally new, devastating and sometimes fatal disease, impossible to ignore.  What could be happening silently is that GMOs are increasing our rates of allergies (this does seem to be the case) and could also cause a delayed harm, say cancer in 20 years (there is some evidence of precancerous intestinal cells in rats eating GMOs, in some of the only safety tests that were ever done on any GMO).

Smith devotes a chapter to why the media is so pro-biotech.  The short answer is that Monsanto spends a lot of advertising dollars.  The NY Times has been one exception.

I know this sounds kind of nutty, kind of Luddite, kind of conspiratorial.  The book’s cover and the web site home page look kind of sensational.  I approached the book with extreme skepticism, too.  If you care about what you eat, I urge you to get the book and find out for yourself.  He quotes an awful lot of people, an awful lot of internal documents (FDA, Monsanto), and an awful lot of data.  He makes a compelling case that our government is lying to us.  Read the book, read some counter arguments (one being that Smith is not a scientist), and decide for yourself.

You can learn more at Smith’s web sites, and Institute for Responsible Technology.  He has updated lists of GMO foods, tips for avoiding them, a newsletter and alerts.  You can keep up with GM news, what’s coming out, what’s being pulled.  He makes the point that consumers are on top of this food chain, and that it only takes a few informed people, or even one, asking their local restaurant to switch to non-GMO, to cause a chain reaction among competitors.  He offers sample letters, articles, and PowerPoints to help you get the word out.

And remember, when you buy a product, you’re telling the manufacturer to keep on doing what it’s doing.  What do you want to tell Monsanto?


2 Responses to “Genetic Modification”

  1. […] read a book, Seeds of Deception, by Jeffrey M. Smith.  I am not sure that book is perfect, but it raised some very good points, […]

  2. […] years ago I read and blogged about Jeffrey Smith’s book “Seeds of Deception.”  Mr. Smith came to Rochester […]

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