Jeffrey Smith interview
Rammed Down our Throats
Interview with Jeffrey Smith in South Africa. September 2005
Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception, the best-selling book on genetic engineering, spills the beans to noseweek about the hidden dangers in the foods we eat and the way massive seed and agrichemical corporations such as Monsanto are manipulating governments and science to foist their questionable products on us. South Africa (along with Brazil and India) is one of Monsanto’s key targets
What motivated you to write ‘Seeds of Deception’?
Jeffrey Smith: In addition to having the inside scoop on many of the dangers of GM foods, I was also aware of several scandalous stories about the biotech industry that would make good reading. Scientists were offered bribes or threatened. Evidence was stolen. Data was omitted or distorted. Government employees who complained were harassed, stripped of responsibilities, or fired. Laboratory rats fed a GM crop developed stomach lesions and seven of the 40 died within two weeks. The crop was approved. When a top scientist tried to alert the public about other alarming discoveries, he lost his job and was silenced with threats of a lawsuit. The warnings of US government scientists were ignored and denied by the Food and Drug Administration, whose policy chief was a former attorney, and later vice president, for Monsanto. A University of California professor claimed he was threatened by a senior Mexican government official who allegedly implied, “We know where your children go to school,” trying to get him to withdraw an incriminating paper from publication. And news reports about GMOs were cancelled due to threats from Monsanto’s attorneys.
I figured that these stories alone would be fascinating to readers. So I weaved the science and facts about the technology into the stories, and the book became the international bestseller on the topic.
What is your interest in Africa?
Many senior African officials I have met at various international conferences have confided that they have been pressurised by the US government and biotech companies, and have little access to the type of information that I have documented. I hope to pierce the biotech myths that advocates propagate, so that the public and Africa’s leaders can make decisions based on facts, not spin.
Scientists representing the biotech industry claim that GM foods have been extensively tested and are safe. They say that anti-GM campaigners like you are unscientific and base their arguments on emotion. Can you comment?A recently published linguistic analysis of biotech advocates concludes what many of us have observed for years. Using unscientific, emotional, and even irrational arguments, GM proponents attack critics as unscientific, emotional and irrational. In reality, critics demand more science, not less. We demand facts, not PR hype.
There are many ways in which a GM food could create toxins, allergens, carcinogens, or nutritional problems. The process of inserting a gene into a DNA can dramatically disrupt the normal genes. One study showed that as many as 5% of the natural genes changed their levels of expression when a single gene was inserted. Genes can get turned off or deleted, switched on permanently, scrambled, duplicated, or relocated. Gene insertion coupled with growing cells from tissue culture, creates hundreds or thousands of mutations throughout the genome. On top of all this, the inserted gene can get mutated, truncated, or blended with the crop’s natural gene code. And it appears that the inserted genes get rearranged over time as well. Any of these changes can create serous problems in themselves, or set in motion a chain of reactions that can lead to problems.
Tragically, the studies conducted on GM crops are not designed to identify the vast majority of possible problems. When scientists understand the dangers involved with GM technology and then discover what studies are actually conducted, they’re shocked. They realize the extent to which consumers are being used as guinea pigs, just so the biotech industry doesn’t have to spend the money doing the proper research. There are fewer than 20 peer-reviewed animal-feeding safety studies. And many of these are industry-funded and clearly rigged to avoid finding problems. No, GM crops are not adequately tested for safety. Part of my work is to bring that to the public’s attention.