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The Byrne Report
NEXT NOVEMBER, if not before, Sonoma County residents will vote on a ballot initiative to ban genetically engineered crops. Inside the media swirl of politicized, conflicting information about the value of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), it is hard to separate scientific fact from propaganda.
Part of the problem is that the scientific establishment is reluctant to critique the development of products marketed as the solution to world hunger. President George W. Bush has proclaimed GMO skeptics to be "unscientific." The U.S. Food and Drug Administration declares that it "is not aware of any information or data that would suggest that any genetically engineered foods that have been allowed for human use are not as safe as conventional foods."
Perhaps the FDA should consult with Europe, Japan and Canada, where the question of GMO safety has been well-publicized. As a result, many forms of GMOs are banned for use in the industrialized world outside U.S. borders. But the extensively documented case against GMO use is seldom reported by the incurious American press. Residents of the North Bay need to arm themselves with quality information to counter the public-relations campaign that is about to overwhelm the tri-county airwaves and daily newspapers with bull like, "Oh, we need the jobs!"
Author Jeffrey M. Smith, thank goodness, is aware of GMO-testing data that should motivate anyone interested in eating to read his book, Seeds of Deception, now in its fourth printing. Smith weaves his scary story from public records, scientific data and interviews with major players on both sides of the debate. The book and more up-to-date information are available at www.seedsofdeception.com.
Smith shows how most GMO products have not been proven safe. Some have killed laboratory animals; others may be currently causing harm to human beings who do not even know they are eating molecularly engineered food. He argues that it is basically insane to eat gene-spliced food until it is created in a socially responsible fashion, assuming that ever comes to pass.
That delicate-sounding "spliced," by the way, is a euphemism. It turns out that when choice gene fragments are blasted together by manufacturers--splicing--only a small percentage of the fragments connect to form a new gene. Antibiotic markers are used to show where splices adhere, thereby adding to the general overuse of antibiotics and the mutation of bacterial diseases. The new combinations violently override hundreds of millions of years of evolution as recorded in plant and animal DNA. There is no way to predict how GMOs will interact with other genes over time.
While the public has heard about problems with GMO soy, potatoes and corn, most Americans are not aware that the food supply is rife with gene-engineered additives. Smith correlates this truth with the fact that food-related illnesses, diabetes, obesity and lymphatic cancers have risen astronomically among Americans since 1990, when we started chugging and masticating basically untested artificial genes.
You may remember the L-tryptophan scare of the early 1990s, when dozens of people became severely ill after ingesting a GMO product engineered in Japan. The FDA responded to the mini-epidemic by banning over-the-counter sales of the popular amino acid, thereby shoring up, says Smith, its control of the dietary supplement and vitamin industry. Smith points out that the FDA was careful not to blame gene-splicing as a cause of the tryptophan disaster, when it clearly was a major contributing factor. The FDA, far from being a protector of the people--which is what polls have long shown many people believe it to be--is revealed in Smith's book to be a politically corrupt institution, a profoundly unscientific institution.
Best of all, Seeds chronicles the failings of the press and media, which, day after day, print the content of biopharm press releases as facts. Smith also talks about ways to avoid eating GMO foods (not many, sorry) and paths to activism (or self-defense, if you will).
It's not all doom and gloom. Smith believes GMOs can and should be studied in a meaningful, scientifically valid way before they are unleashed to reproduce in the environment (although it is too late to stop mutated corn, soy and other GMO crops). Created and distributed with care, if that is possible, GMOs could improve the quality of life for all.
That, however, is not the path we are on now. Smith is right to say that even before the GMO revolution, the world had a surfeit of food. But among the well-armed nations that control that gargantuan excess, there is no more the political will to end starvation than there is the will to end poverty.
The market history of GMOs shows that corporate food monopolists, such as Monsanto Corp., already withhold gene-improved products from the poor in the same way they lock up the natural staples of life. Technology in and of itself is not evil, but all too often its masters are.
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From the March 23-29, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.