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GMO Debate

Cropping Up In Arizona

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Jeffrey Smith. Image by cheeses lave and used under terms of a Creative Commons license.
On Phoenix Metro Stop Of His Information Tour, Author Jeffrey Smith And Several Local Experts Extoll on the Possible Dangers Of Foods That Have Been Genetically Enhanced As Labeling Bill Stalls In Legislature

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By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

Feb. 25, 2013 — The GMO-free community converged on Phoenix on Feb. 21 at Shadow Rock Mountain Campus when author and filmmaker Jeffrey Smith delivered a lecture focusing on genetically modified foods and the science behind the controversy.

Smith, the author of Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies about the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Food You’re Eating, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Food, and creator of the new documentary, Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of Our Lives, delivered the talk to a receptive crowd for a little over an hour.

The ASU Global Institute of Sustainability, GMO-Free Arizona, The Urban Farm, Changing Hands Bookstore and the Institute for Responsible Technology sponsored the event, which mostly focused on anecdotal evidence suggesting that a non-GMO diet can negatively affect general health. Smith also showed the audience the effects that genetically modified foods have had on animals in lab tests.

Greg Peterson, of the Urban Farm, served as host of the event on behalf of co-hosts The Fusion Foundation and Shadow Rock Church. Peterson introduced several representatives from ASU and the night's introductory performer, Celia.

Celia, a Prescott musician and member of GMO-Free Prescott, put on an eclectic solo performance using multiple percussion instruments and an acoustic guitar. She set the tone for the evening early on, performing songs like "Occupy Your Food."

Due to the makeup of the audience, which filled Shadow Rock to capacity, Smith never had to go on the defensive or convince anyone to join his side. Rather, the talk served as an informal gathering that allowed Smith to gather more anecdotal evidence for his research while also arming the sympathetic crowd with the knowledge and know-how to continue the GMO-free movement on the local level.

He opened up the night by asking the audience various questions about how many people consciously avoided GMO foods in their daily diet. He then followed that up by asking the audience what, if any, health improvements they saw after removing GMO foods.

The response was varied, enthusiastic and — according to Smith — predictable.

Multiple audience members offered up their stories, telling Smith that after removing GMO crops from their diet, they saw improvements in everything from allergies to arthritis to asthma.

The host took in all the information and supported the audience's conclusion, saying that these are all stories he has heard before.

Smith said his documentary is littered with stories from real people who began to recover from chronic health issues following the removal of GMO foods. He related the story of one woman who said that after experiencing fertility problems for five years, she became pregnant three weeks into a GMO-free diet.

Smith's general thesis for the night centered on the necessity of GMO-labeling laws and the need to properly inform consumers about what is going into their bodies. He pointed to a study that showed that 53 percent of surveyed consumers stated that they would avoid GMO foods if a labeling law existed.

Genetically modified crops are created when specific genes of one species of plant are forced into the DNA of other crops in order to propagate commercially beneficial traits, such as resistance to pesticides or herbicides.

For instance, some GMO corn has been modified with BT, a pesticide that kills insects by puncturing holes in their cell walls.

"Unlike your mouthwash, [BT] does not say 'do not take internally; it says if taken internally, consult the poison board," said Smith. "But if you eat a corn plant that's genetically engineered with BT toxin, you're consuming BT toxin, which is thousands of times more concentrated than the spray form."

The biotech industry contends that human digestion destroys BT, thus making GMO corn safe for consumption.

Smith cited a study from last year in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, where researchers extracted the BT toxin from Monsanto GMO corn and exposed it to human cells. The study found that the toxin poked holes in human cells.

In a major human feeding study from 2004, researchers tested the contention that the BT toxin was destroyed in digestion by studying the gut bacteria of seven patients with colostomy bags, according to Smith. After feeding the subjects genetically-modified soy, the researchers found a large amount of the subject gene intact in the colostomy bag following digestion.
Additionally, tests of the gut fluid prior to the experiment showed that three of the seven volunteers, from previous soy consumption, had part of the gene that is inserted into soybeans integrated within the DNA of their gut bacteria.

Another study, in Canada, showed the 93 percent of pregnant women and 80 percent of fetuses in the study had traces of the BT toxin in their blood.

"We have a toxin that pokes holes in human cells in our blood and in the blood of fetuses," said Smith.       

Smith, who is the Executive Director at the Institute for Responsible Technology, related his experiences speaking to medical conferences and the difficulty he and others have faced popularizing the data that supports non-GMO advocacy.

He has spoken to the American Academy of Medicine and made relationships with multiple doctors who contend that a GMO-free diet can alleviate a multitude of maladies from the general public.

One doctor he spoke to at a conference, Dr. Emily Lindner of Chicago, prescribed a GMO-free diet to 5,000 patients with a 100 percent success rate, said Smith. The doctor's patients overcame ailments such as Crohn's Disease, migraines and irritable bowel syndrome within months.

"I went to Chicago with a film crew to talk to someone who was 25 days into a non-GMO diet," Smith said. "She had lost 10 pounds, her skin condition had cleared up, and her Crohn's Disease was gone in three days."

Most of the evidence Smith related is anecdotal. One reason for this is the variety of co-factors within human diets. Because processed foods — which are most likely to contain GMO crops — also contain preservatives, artificial sweeteners, gluten, and dairy, removing GMOs from a person’s diet also removes these other items, making it difficult to ascertain which removed product was most to blame for the infirmity.

However, Smith pointed to anecdotal and scientific evidence in farm animals to give a more distinct view of the negative effect GMOs can have on mammals. Because farm animals generally eat crops with very little processing, it is easier to determine the effects GMO diets have on them.

In studies of animals moved from GMO to non-GMO diets, Smith said that the subjects improved along the same lines as the humans he has spoken to. Farmers saw improvements in digestion, mood and overall health in cows and pigs that no longer ate GMO corn and/or soy. This had the positive effect of reducing the amount of antibiotic these farmers gave their animals.

Farmers also reported seeing increased activity in animals on a non-GMO diet. Formerly lethargic pigs began to move around more and play with each other.

He then went on to contend that in order to remove GMO foods entirely from the United States, the movement needed far less than 53 percent of consumers to shun the products. If large food companies saw even a five percent drop in revenue due to public outrage over genetically modified foods, they would begin the process of removing them from the marketplace in order to protect profit margins, Smith said.

He pointed to the situation in England as evidence. After the release of a study in England by Dr. Arpad Pusztai that showed links between GMO potatoes and a wide range of severe health defects in lab rats, the public outcry became so great that the crops virtually disappeared from the marketplace.

The rats fed GMO potatoes suffered from enlarged pancreases and had smaller livers, brains, and hearts. They also had possible precancerous growth in their stomach lining.

The rats were fed potatoes that had been genetically modified with GNA Lectin, a protein that kills insects. The control group of rats was fed non-GMO potatoes. Dr. Arpad also had data on rats that had ingested non-GMO potatoes and a high level of GNA Lectin separately.

Only the rats fed the genetically modified potatoes experienced the drastic adverse health effects, showing that the process of gene modification may have caused unintended and dangerous results.

In the three months following the release of the study, which had to overcome a gag order supported by the biotech industry, journals published over 700 scholarly articles deriding GMO foods and their adverse effects.

Currently, no GMO crops are commercially produced in England.

"We need people to reject GMOs to stop them from taking over the marketplace," said Smith. "As soon as it becomes a market liability, [the use of GMOs] will shrink."

The best ways to avoid GMOs, said Smith, are to eat organic produce, shop at farmer's markets, and avoid processed foods. Additionally, advocates can support labeling laws to make it easier to spot GMOs.

Following Smith's lecture, Lauren Kuby from ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability, brought up AZ SB 1180, a GMO labeling bill sponsored by Senator Ed Ableser. She said the bill was likely to die in committee the following day. She and Smith then encouraged the audience to form an impromptu email campaign on behalf the bill.

When Smith asked for audience volunteers to organize email lists and draft a stock email, he got little response. While the Phoenix community seemed responsive to the GMO-free campaign, it appeared it is not quite ready to do the heavy lifting. After a bit of goading, the audience finally began to participate and a few volunteers agreed to help Kuby.

SB 1180 was not brought up in the Commerce Committee on Feb. 22.

Currently, there are eight GMO crops in production in the United States (alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, papaya, soy, sugar beets, zucchini/yellow summer squash) and the biotech industry is currently testing a plethora of other crops for commercial production. If non-GMO activists and regular consumers want to keep these genetically modified foods out of the marketplace, they must make their voices heard in both the capital and the grocery store.

Wayne Schutsky is a contract writer for Modern Times Magazine.
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