Exposing government lies about GM foods
Seeds of Deception: Exposing industry and government lies about the safety of the genetically engineered foods you're eating
By Jeffery M. Smith
Scribe Publications, 2004
292 pages, $30 (pb)
REVIEWED BY PHIL SHANNON
Source: Green Left
Dr Arpad Pusztai wasn't expecting any problems when he fed his new, genetically engineered potato to the laboratory rats. Yet, after only 10 days of eating the wonder spud, which now produced its own pesticide, the rats suffered from damaged immune systems and organs.
The pesticide wasn't the problem because rats (and humans) have been eating it in perfect safety in foods where it naturally occurs. The problem must have been due to the process of genetic engineering itself. It was the biggest shock of Dr Pusztai's life.
A bigger shock followed soon afterwards. A refugee from Stalinist Hungary, Pusztai got a taste of state authoritarianism British government-style and was suspended from his job, had his research findings confiscated, and was silenced under threat of being sued, on the morning after he had voiced his concerns in a program of the BBC's World In Action in August 1998.
The Rowett Institute in Scotland, where Pusztai worked, had received a British government grant in 1995 to create a UK standard for testing the safety of genetically modified (GM) foods.
Pusztai was a believer in the safety of GM foods, until his sick rats suggested otherwise. The tonne of bricks that flew at his head after he spoke out suggested some powerful forces were heaving their weight around, and Jeffery Smith in Seeds of Deception reports that British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a supporter of the bio-technology industry, had leant on Pusztai's employer.
US President Bill Clinton was also reported to have steeled Blair to his corporate duty to protect the interests of US biotech corporations.
Monsanto, the leader of the US pack with 90% of the global GM food market, would not have been pleased by Pusztai's research findings since they threatened a multi-billion dollar future in which Monsanto could buy up seed companies and make the world dependent on its patented, GM seeds, and dependent on Monsanto's herbicides and pesticides which the GM seeds were engineered to handle.
Monsanto were touchy about bad publicity for its products. Would the cancers and birth defects resulting from its toxic defoliants (Agent Orange) and PCBs (poly chlorinated biphenyls) be repeated for its new GM foods? Yes, and Monsanto knew it.
While the Rowett Institute and the Blair government were attempting to discredit Dr Pusztai with claims of sloppy research and fabricated results, Monsanto and the rest of the biotech industry were deliberately doctoring their studies to avoid finding safety problems with GM foods.
Monsanto excluded sick cows (9500 of them with infected udders) from their studies of rbGH (genetically engineered recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone), while counting cows that got pregnant before treatment as support that the drug didn't interfere with fertility. The stomach lesions of rats fed on Calgene's GM FlavrSavr tomato (genetically engineered to give it prolonged shelf-life) were not included in the published results, nor were the seven unexpected deaths from the 40 rats explained.
Repeatedly, the safety studies provided to food regulatory agencies withheld damning data or included false data, or had experimental designs intended to produce the desired results.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the alleged food safety watchdog in the US, was only too happy to be convinced by the dodgy research studies. The FDA has been called the “Washington branch office of the biotech industry” for good reason. FDA approval of inadequately tested GM foods is criminally easy in an under-resourced agency, in a political climate of de-regulation, with political appointees at the top, with deeply embedded conflicts of interest arising from FDA personnel doing the revolving door dance with jobs in the industry, and where dissent in the name of rigorous science is a career-limiting move.
The loser is public health. The GM artificial sweetener, aspartame, for example, generated 5500 complaints of severe adverse reactions in the US. In 1989, the US Center for Disease Control estimated that 10,000 cases, and 40 deaths, from the debilitating disease, eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome, were caused by a GM strain of L-tryptophan, which promotes sleeping when found naturally in milk and turkey or in non-GM supplements but which created a serious epidemic when genetically monkeyed with.
The big GM money is in soy and corn, whose derivatives are used in 70% of all processed foods, and big problems abound. An increase in soy allergies in Britain has coincided with increased imports of GM soy from the US.
The Du Pont chemicals company genetically engineered the soybean's one missing essential protein into its GM soybean — from the brazil nut — and transferred the nut's potentially fatal allergen. Aventis genetically engineered Starlink corn to produce its own pesticide but cross-pollination and grain mixing saw a quarter of all US corn grain contaminated with the GM corn, with corn allergy-prone eaters of tacos, tortillas and corn chips suffering potentially fatal anaphylactic shock. Starlink is now in the US food supply forever.
The most common outcome of genetic engineering is unpredicted effects. By crossing species lines, complex molecular interactions are provoked and radically different nutritional properties, new diseases, novel epidemics and allergies can result.
To allow GM foods out of the laboratory before they are thoroughly tested is to unleash a “massive uncontrolled experiment” on the consuming public. Even if found to be safe now, GM organisms are notoriously unstable and their offspring can mutate into potentially unsafe organisms.
The profit-worshipping menage a trois of governments, corporations and research institutions is an incestuous, self-referential embrace shutting out the problems of GM foods.
While capitalist governments readily protect the interests of capitalists, including the biotech industry, it never hurts to grease the wheels, however, and biotech corporations influence government through millions of dollars in political party donations and lobbying. Government recipients of corporate largesse play a strategic role in blocking bills on GM food safety and labelling.
Many scientists are forcefully cajoled or willingly volunteer themselves into the government-industry affair. Scientists are increasingly dependent on corporate sponsors — in Britain, 80-90% of the total research budget for universities comes from private sources which can and do refuse to fund those scientists who deliver unwanted findings.
Many researchers have a financial interest in the product being researched. For example, about 80 of the 165 scientific studies on aspartame published by 1995, which found no safety problems with Monsanto's GM sweetener, were all paid for by the manufacturer.
Economic and legal intimidation is a stock-in-trade of powerful biotech corporations. Monsanto launched lawsuits against two small US dairies to stop them labelling their non-GM milk as rbGH-free. The companies folded and the lesson was not lost on the rest of the dairy industry.
Investigative TV journalists for Fox News Florida had a critical report on GM milk pulled at the 11th hour after Monsanto, a major advertiser on Rupert Murdoch's Fox Television, threatened “dire consequences” for the Fox media empire.
Monsanto takes the lead in setting up industry front groups to vilify critical scientists and to identify reporters as friends or enemies, putting the heat on managers and editors to censor the “enemies”. All 14,000 copies of an issue of the British Ecologist magazine that exposed GM food problems were pulped by the printers after Monsanto threatened to sue them. Suspected bribery and burglary round out the tools of the corporate biotech trade.
Yet public concern about the safety and environmental implications of GM food has slowed the biotech juggernaut. Europe, despite Blair's vacuous safety assurances, is almost a GM-free zone. Public opposition to GM foods has forced the passage of a European Union law requiring labelling of GM foods, and in response all major food manufacturers and retailers (including Unilever, Nestle, McDonald's, Burger King and most supermarket chains) have removed GM food from their European operations.
While the Bush administration has filed charges with the World Trade Organisation claiming that EU restrictions on GM food violate international trade agreements, US food companies are starting, slowly, to react to the collapse of their European markets.
Profit heaven and market dominance through GM foods, however, still make the dollar signs ring in the eyes of the biotech brigade and hundreds of GM food products are in the lab. Jeffery Smith's excellent book should help to keep them there and off our plates.
From Green Left Weekly, June 9, 2004.
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