Format: audio only
Running time: approx. 44 min 09 sec.
Summary: By now most people know that GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms. But how do GMOs affect us, the food we eat, and the environment? Jeffrey Smith, founder of the Institute for Responsible Technology provides a solid general overview in this interview.
Jeffrey Smith: Hello.
Pinky: Hi, may I please speak with Mr. Jeffrey Smith?
Smith: This is he.
Pinky: Hi, this is Pinky, from The Pinky Show. I'd like to ask you a few things about genetically modified organisms, GMOs, if that's okay with you?
Smith: Sure, no problem.
Pinky: Okay, first of all what does it mean for an organism to be genetically modified?
Smith: With genetic engineering, or genetic modification, scientists take genes from one species and force them into the DNA of a different species in order to transfer a trait. So for example, there are genes from spiders that have been inserted into goat DNA in the hope that they can milk the goat to get spider web protein to make bullet-proof vests. They have genes from jellyfish put into pigs so that the pigs' noses glow in the dark. They have human genes in rice so that it produces pharmaceutical medicines. And they have genes from bacteria that produce its own pesticide, that have been transferred into corn and cotton so that every cell and every bite of the corn produces as toxic pesticide to kill insects.
Pinky: What kind of reasons do the advocates of GMO give regarding why it's good to be genetically modifying living things?
Smith: The genetically engineered foods currently on the market only have two main traits - 80% are designed to withstand doses of herbicide, they don't die when sprayed with the company's proprietary herbicide, or they're engineered to produce a pesticide. 99.9% of these crops only have these two traits. But if you listen to the rhetoric by the biotech companies, they claim that the GM foods are going to feed the world's hungry, they're going to reduce pesticides, increase yields, and increase nutrition. In reality, the average GM crop reduces yield, and the herbicide tolerant crops have resulted in about 250 million extra pounds of herbicide being sprayed on fields in the United States. It's also lost money for farmers and whole sectors and has caused the United States government to spend an extra 3-5 billion dollars per year subsidizing the prices of these crops that no one wants overseas, and that a greater number of the United States are rejecting.
Pinky: Okay, that's not good. What's going wrong?
Smith: Scientists give the false notion that genetic engineering is just an extension of natural breeding and that it's safe and predictable and even more precise than natural breeding because instead of mixing thousands of genes together through normal central reproduction, you can choose just those genes that you want and put them into a new organism. But this is a false and simplistic notion that doesn't work, and it's based on false assumptions, that genes act like Legos that you can snap them into place and that they'll function according to your instructions. The process of genetic engineering causes massive collateral damage in the DNA of the natural plant. The GM DNA can be 2-4% different mostly through mutations, unpredicted, unexpected mutations up and down the DNA, different from its natural parent. So we have this massive collateral damage, we also have the complete change in hundreds perhaps of the natural functioning genes. Let me explain. You take a gene and you insert it into say, a corn cell. Up to 5% of the genes that are naturally functioning in that corn cell might change their expression as a result of the single insertion. On top of that you have hundreds or thousands of additional mutations up and down the DNA. So this primitive technology is not something that we need, and it's not precise and it's not an advancement.
It's possible that someday we may be able to safely and predictably manipulate the DNA of food crops for the improved health of people and health of the environment, but that day is far away. Right now we're feeding the products of an infant science to millions of people and releasing them into the environment where they can never be recalled. In fact, because most of the basic assumptions around genetically engineered foods and the process are false, it turns out most of the experiments to try and create functioning genetically engineered crops are failures, and that selective breeding turns out to be far more effective as a tool for improving the quality of our food and agriculture.
Pinky: Before these corporations can start feeding people with these GM foods, don't they have to some kind of rigorous testing for safety or something like that?
Smith: It turns out, Pinky, that the quality and quantity of safety studies is insufficient to protect the health of the public and there's reasons for this. Back in 1992, the Food and Drug Administration was charged with creating a policy on genetically engineered foods, and they were also told by the White House to promote the biotechnology industry. And so they created a new position, the Deputy Commissioner of Policy to oversee policy development, and they gave that position to Michael Taylor, Monsanto's former attorney, who later became Monsanto's Vice President. Monsanto, of course, is the large biotech company. So while Michael Taylor was in charge, the policy came out claiming that the agency was not aware of any information showing that GM foods were significantly different from natural foods, and on that basis said absolutely no safety testing is necessary. A food company can introduce a GM crop onto the market without even telling the FDA. Seven years later, 44,000 documents that were formerly secret memos within the FDA became public due to a law suit. And it turns out that that sentence in the FDA policy claiming ignorance of difference was a lie. The overwhelming consensus among the FDA's own scientists were that GM foods were inherently unsafe, that they could create allergies, toxins, new diseases and nutritional problems. They urged their superiors to require long term studies, but were ignored.
So today, there are very few published peer review animal feeding studies, about two dozen, and most of the studies that are done by industry are animal production studies, which simply tell farmers that the animals will gain enough weight, etc., but they're not really safety studies. Those individuals that actually perform independent safety studies are often attacked, vilified, fired, stripped of responsibilities, forced out. I document over and over again scientists who had this treatment and how their research has shown very significant problems. One of the more recent studies for example, shows that when rats were fed genetically engineered soy beans, and then when they got pregnant two weeks later, and continued to eat the soy flours as part of their meal through pregnancy and lactation, more than half of their offspring died within three weeks, compared to only 10% death rate when the mothers ate natural non-genetically engineered soy. And this was repeated three times with similar results. And then, all of a sudden without expectation, all of the food being fed to the rats at this Russian facility started using genetically engineered soy as its base, so they couldn't do any more studies because they had no controls, but within two months, the infant mortality rate among all the rats who were now eating genetically engineered soy jumped to over 55%. If we look at similar studies on mice that were fed GM soy, we see changes in the young sperm cells, other changes in the testicle, even changes in the embryos of parents that were fed GM soy. So these are very serious problems that have been discovered in laboratory testing, but they haven't been followed up, they've been denied, overlooked, challenged, but they're not getting the normal attention that would normally result from these kinds of shocking results about our food.
Pinky: Isn't somebody like the Food and Drug Administration supposed to protect the American public from these kinds of food related health risks?
Smith: One FDA commissioner said years ago, and I'm going to paraphrase him, he says, "What bugs me is that the American people think that FDA is protecting them, but it's not". It's very common for people to think that the FDA is doing a good job in protecting us. They just approved milk and meat from cloned animals with only a handful of studies, and those were conducted by the same companies that were the cloning companies! It's the same kind of thing that happened with GMOs. Now, the biotech companies do participate in a voluntary consultation process where they give the FDA only summary data, and they typically ignore any requests for further information. There was only one biotech company that actually gave raw feeding study data to the FDA. It was the first evaluation done by the FDA. It was for a tomato that had a long ripening period, so it was a delayed ripening tomato called the Flavor Savor tomato, and first of all, it turned out that the rats that were fed the tomato refused to eat them, which should tell you something. In fact, since then, eyewitness reports from all over North America show that when given a choice, many types of animals will avoid eating genetically engineered foods including cows, pigs, geese, elk, deer, raccoons, squirrels, mice, and rats. Well they force-fed the mice, or the rats, excuse me. They force-fed the rats these tomatoes, and several developed stomach lesions and 7 out of 40 died within two weeks and were replaced in the study.
When you look at the FDA's own memos, they say clearly that there are safety questions that have been unanswered, and that the results do not demonstrate that there's no harm from these products, and yet the political appointees approved tomatoes nonetheless. When you look at the industry funded studies that are typically kept secret, when they're hidden, when they're given to the FDA, because they're not published, they're considered confidential business information, when we've had a chance to get our hands on them, it shows how masterfully the biotech industry has designed its studies to avoid finding problems, in their choice of the statistics, in their choice of the controls, in their design of the study, and the obsolete detection methods. They've got bad science down to a science.
Pinky: Are these GM tomatoes currently in our supermarkets?
Smith: Fortunately, those tomatoes were taken off the market back in the late 90s. There are no more genetically engineered tomatoes that are commercialized. Genetically engineered potatoes were also taken off the market in 2001. There are only seven genetically engineered food crops currently available as of early 2008, and that is soy, corn, cotton, and canola. All four are used for vegetable oil, and soy and corn derivatives are practically omnipresent in processed foods. There's also Hawaiian papaya, and a little bit of zucchini and crookneck squash. Unfortunately, the US sugar beet industry plans to introduce genetically engineered sugar as early as this year. They plan to plant it in the spring and we're hoping that we can reverse that decision by raising enough consumer awareness so that they tell the food companies that they won't eat their candies and bakery products and drinks if they use genetically modified sugar, in hopes that we can stop the planting.
Pinky: You mention there have been tests done recently on rats and mice showing the harmful effects of GMOs. Have there also been tests done on humans?
Smith: It's remarkable, Pinky, that there are no human clinical trials, and no post-marketing surveillance. There's only been one human feeding study whatsoever, and that showed an alarming fact, that the genes that were inserted into soybeans, transferred into the DNA of human gut bacteria and continued to function, producing herbicide tolerant proteins inside our intestines! Now, that means, long after you stop eating a genetically engineered crop, you may still have these foreign, genetically modified proteins produced inside you. Now, consider that there is a corn variety, or several, that actually produce pesticides, something called BT toxin in every cell because of an inserted gene. If that gene that creates this toxin transfers to our gut bacteria, it can theoretically turn our intestinal floor into living pesticide factories, possibly for the long term. Now, if you ask the government and the biotech industry "Is this toxin, which rips apart the stomachs of insects and kills them, is it unsafe for human beings"? They will say no, and they'll give you two reasons. They'll say this BT toxin has a history of safe use in agriculture, and that it doesn't interact with mammals or humans. And both of those assumptions are false.
BT toxin, yes, it has been used by farmers for years, but there's descriptions of as much as 500 people developing allergic-type reactions and flu-type symptoms when they were sprayed with the BT toxin in its natural bacterial form when it was used to fight gypsy moth infestation in the US and Canada. There's also animal studies that show when it's fed to mice, they develop an immune response, it's very powerful, and they damaged their intestines. Now, we see hundreds of laborers in India who pick genetically engineered cotton, which is engineered to produce this BT toxin, and just from handling the cotton, they're getting the same type of allergic reactions and flu symptoms that were reported by those who were sprayed with a spray in North America. When they allowed sheep to graze on the cotton plants after harvest, within 5-7 days of continuous grazing, 1 out of 4 sheep were dead. An estimated 10,000 sheep died in this region in 2006 with more deaths reported in 2007.
In the Philippines, villagers reported skin, intestinal, and respiratory reactions and fever while they were breathing in the pollen from these BT toxin creating corn that was planted next door. When the same seeds were planted in four more villages the next year, the same symptoms were reported during the time that the corn was pollinating. There are farmers there and in Germany that claim that BT corn caused deaths among their livestock, and about two dozen farmers in the US claim that BT corn varieties caused their pigs to become sterile or to give birth to bags of water. Even Monsanto's own study own BT corn show evidence of toxicity in the liver and kidneys. And so this is the toxin which is produced in every cell of corn and cotton varieties and might in theory transfer to our gut bacteria, possibly for the long term, producing this toxic pesticide inside our intestines.
Pinky: That's pretty scary. Given the negative consequences, how can these biotech corporations force these GMOs on people?
Smith: The reasons why people are pushing GMO are varied. Obviously the biotech companies make a lot of money. Monsanto is largely, gets most of its profit from their GMO and GMO related products. They sell a lot of extra herbicide that are sold as a package with the herbicide tolerant seeds. They sell genetically engineered bovine growth hormone, which is injected into cows, which is now being rejected en masse by more and more dairies in the United States. But they have a belief that this is the future of agriculture and food. In fact, Monsanto's former consultant, Arthur Anderson Consulting, back in 1999 revealed that they had asked the Monsanto executives to describe their ideal future in 15-20 years, and the executive described a world in which 100% of all commercial seeds were genetically engineered and patented. And Anderson Consulting worked backwards from that goal to create the strategy and tactics to achieve it, and they have been pushing forward and agenda based on a disinformation campaign where they try and paint a picture of these products as things that will save the world.
There was a Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman, under Clinton, who said "What I saw generically from the pro-biotech side was the attitude that the technology was good and that it was almost immoral to say that it wasn't good because it was going to solve the problems of the human race and feed the hungry and clothe the naked and if you're against it you're Luddites, you're stupid." And that frankly, was the side our government was on. He said you felt like you were almost an alien, disloyal, by trying to present an open minded view. And the United States took this as an opportunity to increase US exports which of course backfired. We lost virtually our entire corn exports to Europe, we reduced our exports of soy, and we're paying right now through the nose because of these problems by the administrators back in 1992.
But the US continues to push this as if it's somehow going to turn around for them. So we have the biotech industry pushing it, and they are directly in contact with farmers as the seed dealers, and the herbicide dealers, and the funders of research. We have the US government pushing it, and we have very little coverage in the main stream media, and a lot of that is.. the lack of coverage is in part because of a design by the public relations firms from the biotech companies which sometimes includes threatening reporters and media venues so that they don't report. For example, a threatening letter from Monsanto's attorney promising dire consequences to Fox Television and Rupert Murdoch ultimately canceled the five part news series on Monsanto's bovine growth hormone that was going to link it to cancer among other things. A threatening letter from Monsanto's attorney ultimately caused the cancellation of a book that was critical of Monsanto's technology. Fears of a lawsuit from Monsanto caused a printer to shred 14,000 copies of an issue called "The Ecologist", which was based on focusing on Monsanto's products and their problems.
So, over and over again, we see that the mainstream media has distorted or neglected the issue and that the disinformation campaign has taken hold. So that's one reason why I'm doing what I'm doing is because I realize that the health issues and the hijacked regulatory agencies and all the rigged research need to get out to consumers, and we need to equip consumers with handy pocket guides so that they can choose non-GM because right now the FDA has refused to require that these foods are labeled because again, their purpose is to promote the biotechnology industry and they know that most people would avoid eating GM foods if they were labeled.
Pinky: What role do universities play in all of this?
Smith: In the past couple of decades, universities have set themselves up as profit-driven institutions that are very.. that carefully guard the patents that they develop and establish relationships with corporations to move forward their scientific agenda. And unfortunately, the most of the plant biotechnology that's taking place in the world is being funded, directly or indirectly, by the biotech industry. And so, a lot of the people who are in positions of science that know the risks are fearful of mentioning them because they know that they might lose their funding, and lose their job, and end their career. I've talked to scientists that have had that happen to them. In fact, one member of Parliament, who was testifying before a Royal Inquiry of Commission in New Zealand, said that a number of scientists had contacted her by phone or email and were concerned about the direction that the research was going, but felt that they could not even testify before the Royal Commission because they would be 'eased' out of their institutions. I know of another scientist who was on an independent panel during a national debate on GMOs in the UK and he was threatened that if he came down against GMOs he would have his funding removed. There's a person in 2007 who was a scientist in the university in Paris and he convened some conferences where there was discussions critical of GMOs and he lost his position at the university, lost his funding, and lost his student assistants. So, what's happening with universities is there's an incredible, um, either a deafening silence among those who know about the dangers but are fearful of coming forward, and there's also very very loud advocacy from a handful of individuals who are, in my opinion, bastardizing the science, and putting out the disinformation campaign. They are forwarding their agenda on GM crops, and forwarding their own positions.
Pinky: What does it mean for these corporations to be patenting genes and seeds? And, why is this different from patenting any other invention?
Smith: Patenting is a very contentious issue when it comes to patenting life and life forms. There's one example of a company that patented two genes that were implicated in breast cancer, and after getting that patent, they sent letters out to universities and research institutes at some point and said "Those to genes that you are researching are, we have patents for, and so if you want to do any research on those, you need to pay us money". And unfortunately this reduced the number of research studies going on about this breast cancer gene. The patenting laws are, were never really designed for seeds and the implications for seeds, and I'll tell you an example of what can happen.
A friend of mine who's now famous around the world, Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian canola farmer, from Saskatchewan, had planted and saved seeds of his own for more than 50 years. And when you buy a genetically engineered seed, the farmer signs a contract that they will not replant the seed the following year, but instead they'll have to go back to the same biotech company and pay the extra money for the technology fees associated with these genetically engineered seeds. So, he never bought Monsanto's seeds, never used them, but there's a two mile long road along his field where other farmers truck their canola seeds to market, and when winds come up these really fine canola seeds can blow off the trucks onto Percy's property. Likewise, the seeds or pollen from neighbors who are planting genetically engineered canola can blow onto his field. And Monsanto discovered that indeed, some of their patented genetically engineered seeds blew onto Percy's farm and that when Percy harvested his seeds one year and planted them the next year, some of that was genetically engineered. So they sued Percy Schmeiser and won, and the Canadian courts said that it didn't matter how the contamination occurred, it could be through wind, and insects, or accidentally, but because it was Monsanto's patented genetically engineered seed growing on Percy Schmeiser's field and being replanted there, that Monsanto then had rights to 100% of Percy's plants on the field.
And it's been an absolute disaster that Monsanto has been suing farmers for either saving seeds or contending that they've saved seeds, and they've made tons of money, about 15 million dollars from law suits and maybe 10 or 20 times that from settlements, suing and making settlements for hundreds of farmers over the last few years, and basically stripping farmers of the age-old right of saving seeds. Now what the biotech industry wants to do is introduce a technology called 'terminator' technology which will render the seeds from GM crops sterile. So you cannot replant them. And when this was developed, in part by funds from the US Department of Agriculture, it was designed, it was publicly stated that the reason for this was to target the 1.4 billion farmers in the developing world that save seeds year after year because they don't pay anything to the seed companies. And so, by creating and promoting terminator technology, it'll force them to go year after year back to the multinational corporations. But it also means that the farmers who have been saving seeds and creating all sorts of diversity in the seed bank of our food supply, if they do start going to food companies, to seed sellers for their seeds, the quality and quantity, the range of the seeds will be drastically reduced by the thousands. And so the whole genetic diversity of our food system will shrink even more than it had with the Green Revolution. And so the whole food security, which is secure because of its diversity against the possible drought, and famine, and other blights, that whole security issue will be very very serious. In fact, we'll be betting the food supply of the earth on a handful of genetics by these companies and that's one of the real dangers.
Pinky: Can you explain a little bit more about what is really the problem when you have a lot less biodiversity?
Smith: Okay, um, there are certain diseases that attack plants, and they may not attack all varieties of corn or all varieties of potato or all varieties of wheat, and there may be certain varieties that will withstand it. So, farmers may plant several different varieties in their field in hopes that if one gets attacked and hurt, the others will survive. But more than just a single farmer, the full range of farmers have that diversity available to them. Now when the whole population is being fed by just a narrow number of genetics like happened in Ireland when there was just a few types of potatoes that had taken hold, when they had the blight on the potato, then hundreds of thousands of people had no food. And so the diversity of the food supply and the diversity of the genetics within each species is important as a insurance policy against possible changes in the climate, changes in the pest patterns and other things.
Now, in India, before the Green Revolution, they had, you know, 250,000.. I mean, some huge number, variety of rice varieties, and then it dropped down to maybe 40 or 50 because they commercialized a certain number of rice varieties, and they can lose those other genetics forever because once they're stopped being planted, as they have been for generation after generation, they don't exist. So some of these extinct varieties could have had very special characteristics. Fortunately, there are people like Vandana Shiva in India that have rice seed banks that are saving varieties of rice and other plants. And she's pointed out that there's a red rice with high levels of vitamin A, and there's certain rice that's good for pregnant women, and there's all sorts of diversity in nature that if it had been wiped out and not preserved, we would be, we would not be the beneficiaries of nature's bounty.
Pinky: I've heard that there are corporations that are patenting human DNA. Do you know anything about this?
Smith: When I mentioned the genes that were patented that relate to breast cancer, those were human genes. About a thousand of the genes inside human beings are patented. So it's a very odd thing, that, you know, a thousand of the genes in you and me are owned, the rights to those are owned, by corporations. They basically discover the gene, discover some use for it, and on the basis of their discovery call it a kind of invention, and gain rights to it. There's also something called biopiracy where, say in India, farmers have for years worked and selected certain qualities of wheat so they end up with a wheat that creates chapatis, that's perfect for chapatis. Well then comes along a biotech company. They take samples of that, discover some of the reasons why the chapati wheat is bene.. is so unique, and then claim to patent it so that they can then sell that chapati wheat back to the Indian farmers at a profit. Here's where they're stealing the intellectual property, so to speak, of generations of farmers in India, calling it their own and then demanding a price because the legal system favors that.
Well, a company tried to do that with chapatis and they were stopped. They tried to do that with neem, which is a tree in India that's been used for a variety of herbal remedies, and there was a big patent fight on that, and they dismissed the patent. And there's all sorts of examples, however, where the patents are not dismissed, and not only is it co-opting the work done by generations of farmers, typically the company that does the patenting is from the United States, Canada, or Europe, and they get the crop that they're patenting or the organism that they're patenting from a developing country, but they don't give any recompense or remuneration to that developing country. So this is why it's a form of what they call biopiracy, or bioprospecting, where they steal some of the resources from these developing countries and do not give them any money, but just charge them if they want to use their own products from that point on.
Pinky: You know, I've heard that some people are calling for moratoriums on GMO research, testing, and patenting. What would that look like in practice and how is that protection when, um, I guess my understanding is that moratoriums are usually only temporary?
Smith: A lot of people would like to see the patenting of life made illegal. And the patenting of seeds made illegal. So that's one struggle which is going forward, and there's a lot of people for that in developing countries and working in the transnational organizations. A second fight is to try and get a moratorium on the planting of GMOs outdoors. Most people are not expressing a desire to end the research on genetic engineering. Most people say but if they research it, it should be indoors, in a laboratory, in a carefully constructed greenhouse, not to let genes escape into the gene pool.
You see the genes, unlike chemical spills, genetic engineering releases a genetic pollution that self-propagates. It spreads to non-GMO crops, to weedy relatives, and it persists in the environment. The genes that we are putting out there now can possibly outlast the effects of global warming and nuclear waste. So there's a strong desire to put the genie back in the bottle so that we aren't making irreparable changes to our ecosystem based on very little knowledge and an infant primitive science.
There's been a rise of efforts to create GM free zones around the world. There's 4,500 jurisdictions in Europe, large and small, which have wanted to create GM free zones. There's countries as a whole that want to ban the planting. In fact, Switzerland has a five year ban, most of Austria wants to ban it, parts of Italy want to ban it, Greece, Poland, France, and Ireland want to ban it. There's counties in California where it's illegal to plant GMOs because of ballot initiatives or ordinances by county supervisors. There are states in Australia, regions in New Zealand, countries in Africa, regions in South America where the farmers or the consumers, or the politicians have created a GM free zone, meaning it's illegal to plant genetically engineered crops in that area. Now, this is a very important, and vital, and appropriate response to genetic engineering, but in the long term it's not going to stop it because nature has a way of spreading her bounty. I mean, Hawaii was pure lava rock and now it's a lush tropical paradise, and it's more than 2000 miles away from the mainland. Where did it get those seeds? So over the long term, nature will spread it irrespective of the boundaries.
I was in Australia in late 2007 and popularizing the notion that genetically engineered foods are unsafe. Soon after, two states still lifted their moratorium on the planting of GMOs but the nearby states did not. So, the pollen from one state's canola, genetically modified canola is sure, and the seeds are sure to blow into the non-GM states because the canola does not recognize the law. So it's going to spread, and it's going to spread not only through pollen and insects, it'll spread through human error, and mixing up of seeds. If you go to Canada, and you even try to buy non-genetically engineered canola seeds, good luck. They took 33 bags of each different, certified, non-GM seeds, 32 of them were contaminated by at least a small amount of GM canola.
Pinky: Hmm. Okay, what next? Because all of this sounds very disheartening to me. Where do we go from here?
Smith: Fortunately, even though genetically engineered foods and crops are one of the most serious health and environmental risks we face, they're one of the easiest problems to fix. Now let's look at Europe and see what happened there. In April of 1999, Unilever, Britain's largest food manufacturer committed to remove genetically engineered ingredients from their European brands, and within a week virtually every major food company followed suit. What had happened was there was a high profile food scandal that had made it into the news there. A scientist who had worked on a UK government grant to create the ideal testing protocol to approve GMOs accidentally discovered that the process was very unsafe. His rats that were fed supposedly harmless GM potatoes developed potentially pre-cancerous cell growth, smaller brains, livers and testicles, partial atrophy of the liver, damaged immune system. He went public with his concerns and was a hero for about two days at his prestigious institute and then two phone calls were allegedly placed from the UK Prime Minister's office, forwarded through receptionists to the director of the institute. The next morning, that scientist was fired from his job after 35 years, silenced with threats of a lawsuit, his 20 member research team was disbanded, and they never implemented the protocols. Instead, a series of statements were made to try and tarnish his reputation and boost the reputation of biotechnology.
After seven months, he was finally able to speak due to an act of Parliament, and from the day he spoke, within a few weeks, 750 articles were circulating around Europe about the impact of genetically engineered foods on food safety. And that alone had caused the tipping point. Enough consumers in Europe had decided that they didn't want to eat genetically engineered foods, and when they decided that, the food companies realized it would be a liability to sales if they continued to use GM ingredients. So en masse, they completely stampeded away from GM ingredients.
However, that story of that scientist did not make it into the US press. Project Censored, a US media watchdog group described it as one of the ten most under-reported events of the year. As a consequence of the lack of coverage on the GM issue in the United States, if you ask the average American "Have you ever eaten a GM food in your life?" 60% say no, 15% say I don't know. Most people eat GM foods in every meal. So genetically engineered foods prospered in the United States on the basis of consumer ignorance, which leaves the industry very vulnerable. If some event, if some scandal, if some research were to raise the issue onto the national radar screen, it could easily be taken off the market. In fact I think if only 5% of US consumers, 15 million people were conscientiously avoiding GM ingredients in their purchases, that would be more than enough to achieve the tipping point in the US, forcing the entire food industry to remove GM ingredients.
We saw a tipping point that's sort of happening now with bovine growth hormone, Monsanto's genetically engineered drug, where in the past year or two more than 1/3 of all dairies in the United States have committed to remove it from all or part of their product line, as well as Publix, and Krogers, and Starbucks, and Chipotle. So we're seeing a massive stampede away from one genetically engineered product, and I believe we're going to see that stampede away from all genetically engineered products soon. In fact, my organization, the Institute for Responsible Technology, has a series of integrated campaigns designed to achieve the tipping point before the end of 2009.
We wanted to report very successfully that there's other organizations working with us with very powerful advances. We wanted you to know that the natural food industry as a whole is in the process of removing remaining genetically engineered ingredients from their brands, we're going to circulate a non-GMO shopping guide in all the health food stores as part of our GMO education centers, and we're working with some media to reach health conscious shoppers, to let them know about the risks of GMOs, to motivate them to make that choice to non-GM products. We're working with schools around the country and parent groups, we're working with medical organizations, many more doctors are now prescribing non-GM diets, and there's also religious organizations which are very concerned and think that GMO may really mean God move over.
So, we believe that through these.. work through these very receptive groups, as well as some mass media on the issue, we will achieve the tipping point. And I'd like to encourage people listening to take steps to avoid eating genetically engineered foods. You're invited to our website at responsibletechnology.org and learn how to avoid eating genetically engineered foods, by reading labels, by buying organic, by buying products that say non-GMO, by avoiding the at-risk ingredients, and there's also brand names listed on our site, on our shopping guide that you can link to where they'll tell you that those brands do not use genetically engineered foods. So simply by protecting yourself and by protecting children who are most at risk from these foods, we can change the world as it already occurred in Europe, has already occurred in the United States with rBGH. We can make it happen with genetically engineered foods.
Pinky: Alright, so this can be done. So, we're going to have to educate ourselves more about these issues and fight to protect our bodies and also Planet Earth. Well, thank you Mr. Smith, I appreciate you taking the time to speak with us.
Smith: My pleasure Pinky. It's been really fun and thank you for helping spread the word.
Pinky: Okay, thank you.
Smith: Okay. Thank you.
Pinky: That was Jeffrey Smith, Executive Director of the Institute for Responsible Technology.
guest: Jeffrey Smith
drawings & illustrations: Pinky