Are Americans willing to jeopardize their health with GMO foods?
Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies about the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You Are Eating (2003), is convinced that they are not, so he started the Campaign for Healthier Eating in America, which calls for the elimination of GMO foods altogether.
He spoke recently at the annual Michigan Organic Farm and Food Association conference held at Michigan State University and provided participants with resources and inspiration for joining the movement to eliminate genetically-engineered (GM) foods.
Smith figures that it will take only 15 million Americans or 5 percent of the population, to pressure food companies not to use GMO ingredients or products and thus establish a tipping point for change.
Potential target audiences receptive to his message include food co-ops, health-conscious shoppers, schools, parents of young children, medical practitioners, green groups, chefs, food service executives. Meanwhile, physicians are already telling their patients to avoid GMOs and religious organizations are looking into the ethical and spiritual aspects of food production, he said.
"When people see what is going on, they realize that it's bad," said Smith. "We want to take that energy and turn it into effective action instead of feeling like victims. We want people to say to themselves: ‘I determine what food I eat.'"
Genetic engineering or the genetic modification (GM) of food involves the laboratory process of artificially inserting both genes and genetic control mechanisms into the DNA of food crops or animals. The result is a genetically modified organism. GMOs can be engineered with genes from bacteria, viruses, insects or animals-including humans. GMO-derived foods are pervasive and, due to current laws and regulations, difficult to distinguish between foods that are GMO and those that are not.
Twenty-two European countries have solved that problem by demanding that their governments require labels to identify all GMO foods. Then consumers had the option to choose whether to buy what they called "frankenfoods" or not. However, the pressure was so strong against GMO foods that American companies took them off the market and reverted back to selling their original, non-GMO products.
Smith said that 53 percent of Americans would do the same if given the choice, but GMO foods are not labeled in the United States except in Minnesota, California, Vermont and Maine and a few cities.
One significant problem with GM seeds is that through the GE process mutations are generated throughout a plant's DNA, such as deleting or permanently shutting on or off natural genes, changing the complex interactive behavior of hundreds of genes or changing or rearranging either natural or inserted genes that may create unique proteins that can trigger allergies or promote disease,
In his second book, Genetic Roulette (2007), Smith presents irrefutable evidence of 65 health dangers linked to GMOs including allergens, carcinogens, new diseases, antibiotic resistant diseases and nutritional problems.
For example, soon after GM soy was introduced to the UK, soy allergies skyrocketed by 50 percent, said Smith. In March 2001, the Center for Disease Control reported that food is responsible for twice the number of illnesses in the United States compared to estimates just seven years earlier. This increase roughly corresponds to the period when Americans began eating GM food.
"Without follow-up tests, which neither the industry or government is doing," said Smith, "we can't be absolutely sure if genetic engineering was the cause."
Children with young, fast-developing bodies face the greatest risk from the potential dangers of GM foods for the same reasons that they face the greatest risk from other hazards like pesticides and radiation: they are susceptible to allergies and have problems with milk, nutrition and antibiotic resistant diseases.
Smith pointed out that in the past when consumers found a product to be a health risk-as with bovine growth hormones in milk by 2009 (a product of Monsanto) and Alar in apples in 1989 (a product of Uniroyal Chemical Company, Inc., now integrated into the Chemtura Corporation)-they voted with their wallets. Likewise, in India when there was talk of concocting GMO eggplant, a staple in that country, 100,000 people put on a fasting demonstration and 8,000 others showed up at a government hearing and stopped it.
There are other efforts afoot to fight GMOs.
The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit collaboration of manufacturers, retailers, processors, distributors, farmers, seed companies and consumers who believe that everyone deserves an informed choice about whether or not to consume genetically modified products. The group's common mission is to ensure the sustained availability of non-GMO choices so it lists participating food companies and state-by-state retailers. It also has created an independent verification system that offers transparency and a consistency of standards consumers can trust. Its core requirements are traceability, segregation, and testing at critical control points.
The Center for Food Safety has published the pocket-sized Non-GMO Shopping Guide that lists products and companies that produce GMO and non-GMO foods-as well as the "hidden GM ingredients" that are found in many processed foods.
Smith's website also provides a summary of the crops, foods and food ingredients that have been genetically modified as of July 2007.
"We actually have the power to eliminate GMOs ourselves instead of waiting for government or for labels," said Smith. "We must move through our networks and let others know that GMOs are unhealthy. That what will allow us to make change."