The Frightening GMO Food Fraud
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Even if it didn’t deal with a topic of such surpassing importance, I would encourage everyone to read Altered Genes, Twisted Truth: How the Venture to Genetically Engineer our Food Has Subverted Science, Corrupted Government, and Systematically Deceived the Public just on the basis of power of the logic and the clarity of the writing on display. Reading it, I felt privileged to be in the company of a man of such a rare combination of intellect and principle. Author Steven M. Druker, a public interest lawyer, builds his case in support of the book’s extended title systematically, chapter by chapter, until he has constructed an edifice of persuasion as solid as an Egyptian pyramid.
The nub of his argument is that genetically engineered (GE) food products, as brand new substances produced by a means that is radically different from traditional plant breeding, are on the market illegally because American law requires that such new products be extensively tested before they can be sold. To do the required testing over the extended time period required, however, would make the whole GE venture uneconomic, so the law has been skirted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The skirting has been done by treating GE foods (now generally called genetically modified organisms or GMOs, originally meant to be a euphemism because it sounded better than “engineered”) in the same way as we treat foods that have stood the test of time and are simply generally recognized as safe (GRAS).
Not only is it manifestly untrue that GMOs are GRAS, but through the discovery process in a lawsuit that he and a number of very knowledgeable scientists initiated, Druker learned that FDA administrators overruled their own scientific experts in declaring them GRAS. That is to say, GMOs have been treated as though they were no different from new plant varieties created by traditional methods when it is not true and the decision-makers at the FDA have known all along that it is not true. They are not recognized as safe even within the FDA, itself.
The big problem, according to Druker, is that in its early development stage in the 1980s, bioengineering was seen by the Reagan administration as the next big technological wave that the United States could catch, similar to the digital electronics revolution, that would help keep the country in the world economic forefront. With this business booster mindset, political leaders, in league with the avaricious owners of companies like Monsanto, have allowed politics and greed to trump science, and, indeed, to trump existing U.S. food safety law, in furtherance of the dangerous GE food agenda. Furthermore, blinkered members of the science community, who have apparently put their wetted fingers to the wind and have gone along enthusiastically with what can only be characterized as massive scientific fraud, have abetted them.
One can hear a good summary of Druker’s book in the excellent interview of the author by George Noory on the latter’s Coast to Coast AM program. Many of the highlights are there, except that Druker doesn’t have time to go into the section of the book entitled “Another Continuing Trend: Research that Produces Disturbing Results Produces Nasty Attacks.” The danger of GMO foods is not just theoretical. It seems that almost every time GMO food products have been subjected to any sort of serious scientific test—of the type that would be required of them but for their illegal GRAS-pass, and of the type that the general public has been led to believe they routinely receive but don’t—these “disturbing results” tend to show up:
Š Male rats fed a variety of Bt maize developed by Monsanto for the Egyptian market differed from those fed the non-GE control maize in organ and body weights and in blood chemistry, despite the fact the control plants were the parental variety and were grown next to their engineered relatives. The differences were detected after 45 days and after 91 days, several toxic effects were measured, including abnormalities in liver cells, excessive growth of intestinal membranes, congested blood vessels in the kidneys, and damage to cells that are essential to sperm production.
Š Feeding another type of Bt maize to both young and old mice was associated with a marked disturbance of the immune system and of biochemical activity.
Š When mice were fed for five consecutive generations on GE triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye) their lymph nodes enlarged and the number of some important immune system cells significantly decreased.
Š Rabbits that consumed GE soybeans had adverse changes in enzyme function in their hearts and kidneys.
Š Mice that ate GE soybeans for two years displayed indications of acute liver aging in comparison to those fed on non-GE soy. *
More information on the subject can be found at http://earthopensource.org/earth-open-source-reports/gmo-myths-and-truths-2nd-edition/.
Druker has many examples of the nasty attacks that been made upon scientists who have come up with such disturbing findings. One such example can be found online in the case of world-renowned expert on food safety, Dr. Arpad Pusztai. In Britain, where Dr. Pusztai lives and works, the authorities are as much under the thrall of the biotech promoters as they are in the U.S. The British version of GRAS is the principle of substantial equivalence, which is invoked for GMO foods there and gives them a pass from long-term testing before they are allowed on the market. Dr. Pusztai was suspended from his position at the prestigious Rowett Institute for objecting to that policy on national television because of what he had found with his own tests.
The Central Role of the News Media
From the JFK assassination to 9/11 and many other important matters that we have looked into, it all comes down to the corruption of the opinion-molding profession, primarily the news media. The first few paragraphs of Druker’s Chapter Eight, entitled “Malfunction of the American Media” (subtitled “Pliant Accomplices in Cover-up and Deception”) are so revealing and tell such a familiar tale from my own experience that I must repeat them here in their entirety:
As I walked to lunch on May 27, 1998, I was elated. The Alliance for Bio-Integrity and the International Center for Technology Assessment had just held a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. announcing the filing of their lawsuit against the FDA; and it seemed there was good reason to be buoyant. The conference had been well-attended, with numerous print reporters and camera crews from the major national TV networks. I and other speakers had described the many flaws of the FDA’s policy on GE foods and emphasized that, despite its pretensions the agency was not regulating these products in the slightest degree. We had also driven home the fact that among the plaintiffs were nine well-credentialed scientists, whose participation refuted the FDA’s claim that GE foods are “Generally Recognized as Safe.”
Consequently, I expressed great optimism about the kind of media coverage I was expecting to the friends who had attended the conference and were accompanying me to a restaurant. But one of them didn’t share my optimism. She had extensive experience with the press and during the conference she heard a sobering statement from a member of the media that she felt I needed to hear as well. She had been sitting next to a correspondent for one of the national TV networks. He regularly provided reports during the national news about important stories originating from Washington, and his camera crew was taping the conference. Toward the end of the session, he turned to her and remarked: “This is an important story. It should be widely told. But it won’t be. I’ll file my report this afternoon, but it’s not going to go any further. It won’t make it onto the evening news, and it won’t be on the morning news, either.”
When I heard this, I found it hard to believe. Why would such an important story not be broadcast? After all, it was vitally relevant to all Americans because they were regularly consuming GE foods without their knowledge. Didn’t they have a right to know that, contrary to the assertions of their proponents, these products have not been carefully tested and that the claims about their safety were based exclusively on dubious assumptions? Moreover, shouldn’t the sham about general recognition of safety be exposed? Shouldn’t citizens be informed that, in reality, there was not a consensus among experts that GE foods are safe—and that nine were so concerned about the risks that they were suing the FDA?
So, while my optimism was somewhat tempered, I maintained a belief that although forces at that particular news network might obstruct the reporting of our story, conditions would be different at the others—and that they and the rest of the media would dutifully convey the key facts to the public.
But I was wrong. Despite the presence of their crews at the press conference, none of the national television networks reported on our lawsuit. Nor was it mentioned in the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Wall Street Journal—the nation’s three most influential newspapers. National Public Radio didn’t even refer to it. Further, although reports on the suit did circulate through some news services and appear in several newspapers, they furnished no grounds for celebration. While they noted that scientists were included among the various plaintiffs, they didn’t reveal that there were nine of them, and they failed to point out that the involvement of so many experts undermined the FDA’s claim about general recognition of safety.
In fact, the articles did not even report the basic message that our scientists were communicating, even though it was amply conveyed by speakers at the press conference and the supplementary documents we provided. Consequently, readers had no idea that these experts had branded the FDA’s policy as scientifically unsound, warned about the unusual potential of GE food to cause unintended harmful effects, and called for rigorous safety testing. Moreover, in blacking out our scientists’ assertions, some dramatic ones had to be disregarded. For instance, during the question and answer session, the molecular biologist Liebe Cavalieri was asked to comment on the fact that many eminent scientists declare genetic engineering to be substantially the same as traditional breeding. As noted in Chapter 4, his answer was not timid. He denounced their behavior as “disgraceful”—and their claim as a “sham.” He then added, “And you can quote me on that.”
But none of the articles did. Instead, they quoted several spurious assertions from proponents of GE foods issued in response to our suit. One of the most outrageous was from Stephen Ziller, vice president of the Grocery Manufacturers of America, whose members produce most of the name brand foods and beverages sold in the US. In extolling the safety of GE foods and the soundness of FDA policy, Ziller painted the plaintiffs as “opponents of progress and science-based research.” In light of the fact that the plaintiffs were actually suing the FDA for ignoring science-based research, and were demanding that more research be performed, this accusation was absurd. But due to the deficient reporting, readers could not discern its absurdity—and many were probably being taken in by it. For the same reason, many may have also been deluded by another absurd assertion, made by an FDA official to trivialize the differences between GE foods and conventional ones that our call for labeling was like demanding that labels be placed on grapes picked by non-union workers.
If you have watched the Noory interview of Druker, you know that he now regards the call for GMO labeling as an unacceptable half-measure for dealing with the problem. Though he agrees that the various state campaigns for labeling have performed an important educational function, “…labeling is technically appropriate,” he writes, “for foods that are legitimately on the market, and if a group of foods are instead being marketed illegally, the proper remedy is not to label them but to remove them. In fact, placing the emphasis on labeling implies that the foods are on the market legally and obscures the reality that they’re being sold in violation of the law.”
Pro-GMO Propaganda Barrage Intensifies
As if on cue, just as I had read enough of the book to see clearly the numerous fallacies in their argument, The Washington Post had this lead editorial on March 29, 2015:
EIGHTY-EIGHT percent of scientists polled by the Pew Research Center in January said genetically modified food is generally safe to eat. Only 37 percent of the public shared that view. The movement to require genetically modified food products to be labeled both reflects and exploits this divergence between informed opinion and popular anxiety.
Mandated labeling would deter the purchase of genetically modified (GM) food when the evidence calls for no such caution. Congress is right to be moving toward a more sensible policy that allows companies to label products as free of GM ingredients but preempts states from requiring such labels.
Lawmakers and voters in some states have considered requiring GM labeling, but only a few have chosen to label, and none have yet started. That’s good: The GM-food debate is a classic example of activists overstating risk based on fear of what might be unknown and on a distrust of corporations. People have been inducing genetic mutations in crops all sorts of other ways for a long time — by, for example, bathing plants in chemicals or exposing them to radiation. There is also all sorts of genetic turbulence in traditional selective plant breeding and constant natural genetic variation.
Yet products that result from selective gene splicing — which get scrutinized before coming to market — are being singled out as high threats. If they were threatening, one would expect experts to have identified unique harms to human health in the past two decades of GM-crop consumption. They haven’t. Unsurprisingly, institutions such as the National Academy of Sciences and the World Health Organization have concluded that GM food is no riskier than other food.
Promoters of compulsory GM food labeling claim that consumers nevertheless deserve transparency about what they’re eating. But given the facts, mandatory labeling would be extremely misleading to consumers — who, the Pew polling shows, exaggerate the worries about “Frankenfood” — implying a strong government safety concern where one does not exist. Instead of demanding that food companies add an unnecessary label, people who distrust the assurances that GM food is safe can buy food voluntarily labeled as organic or non-GM.
This isn’t just a matter of saving consumers from a little unnecessary expense or anxiety. If GM food becomes an economic nonstarter for growers and food companies, the world’s poorest will pay the highest price. GM crops that flourish in challenging environments without the aid of expensive pesticides or equipment can play an important role in alleviating hunger and food stress in the developing world — if researchers in developed countries are allowed to continue advancing the field.
Even if the poll with which The Post leads off its editorial is accurate—a big “if” considering the general probity of this newspaper and the mainstream news media generally—they hardly lead to the conclusions that The Post would have us make. In the first place, there is a great gulf between “generally recognized as safe to eat,” and “generally safe to eat.” I can’t imagine anyone who calls himself a scientist even answering such a vague question. What does it mean? Does it mean that nine times out of ten it won’t kill you…or maybe 99 times out of a hundred? It sounds to me a lot like the assurances we have had about the human consumption of dog food. It your toddler gets into the dog food and eats some of it you don’t need to call 911, but it’s not a good idea to have it in your regular diet. I don’t know about you, but if a product is no better than “generally safe to eat,” at the very least I’d like to know if it’s in the food offered for sale so I can prudently avoid it.
Second, the fact that a person is a scientist doesn’t mean that he knows much of anything about GMOs. Almost all scientists are narrow specialists. I dare say that if you take the time to read Steven Druker’s book you will be much better informed about GMOs than around 99% of the scientists in the world. If scientists as a group are, indeed, more inclined than the general public to give their blessings to GMOs, it is simply an indicator of how successful the selling campaign has been that genetic engineering represents scientific progress. Also, if a scientist reads newspapers and listens to the news more than the average person—which is likely—he is likely to be more pro-GMO than the average person. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if polls should show, for instance, that scientists are more inclined than the average person to believe that TWA 800 crashed because of an explosion in the fuel tank and that all the destruction of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City was caused by a truck bomb in the street, well away from the greatest damage, both of which are the government position trumpeted by the news media. What we are looking at here is not a comparison of the uninformed to the well-informed but to the misinformed, which a person is certain to be on the subject of GMOs and much else if his opinions are formed by consuming the output of the mainstream news media, a hazardous product if there ever was one.
And think of the contempt for public opinion that we see on display here. Sixty-three percent of the people in the country, The Post tells us, believe that it is not safe to eat GMO foods. Yet the newspaper is in favor of depriving them of the knowledge that they are even eating such foods.
Finally on that poll, it’s really quite chilling to think that 12 percent of scientists believe that GMOs are generally not safe to eat, in spite all the propaganda to which they, probably even more than the rest of us, have been subjected. One can take it to the bank that there is a disproportionate representation among that group of people, like the late Dr. Cavalieri or Dr. Pusztai, who are real experts on the subject. What it means, at the very least, is that GMOs are not generally recognized as safe in the scientific community and that it is therefore illegal for the FDA to allow them on the market without proper testing.
The Post invokes the authority of the National Academy of Sciences in favor of GMOs, but if one learns anything at all from Druker’s book it is that the NAS has been every bit as much as corrupted at the top by the GMO promoters as has the FDA. And like the scientific experts within the FDA, there are numerous informed members of the NAS who take strong exception to the position that the NAS has taken.
Concerning the supposed declaration that the World Health Organization has determined that GMOs are “no riskier” than traditional foods, Druker has this to say:
But in reality, the WHO has stated that “it is not possible to make general statements on the safety of all GM foods” and that their safety should therefore be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Moreover, the WHO noted that while safety assessments are not required for “traditional” foods, most national authorities require them for bioengineered products—and that one of its objectives is to assist in the process.
The editorial’s concluding tug at liberal heartstrings by invoking the promise of genetically engineered foods to feed the world’s hungry is just a familiar red herring. In the first place, Druker reminds us that, by law, food products are different from drugs when it comes to FDA approval. Specific medications are not consumed by everyone, and those taking them knowingly balance the risks against the potential benefits. Any possible benefit of GMO food products either for people in Third World countries or in terms of cheaper foods at home by allowing more laborsaving techniques in cultivation are, in a strict sense, irrelevant to the question of food safety.
Having said that, the characterization of GMOs as a boon to the Third World is a sham, we learn from Druker. The promise of greatly increased crop yields has not materialized, and, in fact, by interfering with the time-tested method of saving the seeds of the best-performing plants the bioengineering system very likely lessens the long-term prospects for improved plant yields. The use of GMOs in Third World Countries also subjects them to the same—or worse—ecological dangers that they do here in the United States, an important topic of Druker’s book that goes beyond the scope of this review. Requiring farmers to purchase new seeds from companies like Monsanto every year instead of allowing them to plant saved seeds also increases farming costs.
Like the informed members of the NAS and the key scientists within the FDA, and, indeed, even within Monsanto, the experts at The Post know differently from what is in the editorial. More Druker:
Rick Weiss, a science reporter with The Washington Post, called me shortly after the [National Press Club] conference and interviewed me extensively. He requested that I fax him copies of the key [FDA] memos and that I also tell him how to contact several of our scientist-plaintiffs. As he prepared his story, we spoke several more times; and I had high hopes that his report would initiate a major breakthrough. But when the article finally ran, I was shocked—and deeply disappointed. There was no mention of the FDA memos, no quotes from our scientist-plaintiffs, and no indication that many experts had serious concerns about the potential toxicity of GE foods. Equally egregious, although the article noted that a lawsuit had been initiated against the FDA to compel safety testing, it termed the plaintiffs “activists,” with no hint that the group included nine knowledgeable life scientists.
I was just about to phone Weiss and demand to know why he had failed to include the critical information he had gathered when he phoned me. He said he knew that I was very disappointed, and he wanted me to understand that he was disappointed too. As he explained what had happened, I began to feel sorry for him. The article he wrote had exposed the FDA fraud, quoted from the memos of the scientific staff, and also quoted scientists who were plaintiffs in our lawsuit. But his editor refused to let it stand—and demanded deletions and revisions. Weiss objected, but the editor was adamant. So, with the editor’s active participation, substantial excisions and revisions were made, and the article that the public read was far from the one Weiss had intended to produce.
Now, as you read their recent editorial, you see why it was so important that Weiss’s original revealing article be replaced by its mendacious, bowdlerized substitute. Had they not called the plaintiffs “activists” instead of the esteemed scientists that they were they could hardly continue to play on the theme of “activists” versus science, as they continue to do, calling the controversy, “a classic example of activists overstating risk based on fear of what might be unknown and on a distrust of corporations.”
In its March 29 editorial, The Post said, “…people who distrust the assurances that GM food is safe can buy food voluntarily labeled as organic or non-GM.” Anyone who has read Druker’s book will certainly do that at every opportunity, but, especially in the case of restaurants, the opportunity is still very limited. That’s apparently how the folks at The Post would like to keep it because, when the Mexican chain Chipotle announced it was going non-GMO, they responded with an editorial blast entitled “Chipotle’s GMO gimmick is hard to swallow.” A few days later, in their Health and Science section, they followed up with an article whose subtitle in the print edition said it all, “Experts say genetically modified ingredients aren’t especially risky.”
The Post is hardly alone in smearing Chipotle for doing the right thing. Reporter Tanya Lewis wrote the article that appeared in The Post for a service called “Live Science.” With a Net search you can see that the article was widely reprinted. The Raleigh News and Observer did the Lewis purveyors one better with its own op-ed piece by a professor of history at the University of North Carolina—that is by a man from a corrupt profession at a corrupt institution—that can only be described as slanderous toward Chipotle.
With another Net search, we found that this history professor, Peter Coclanis, has been pushing Monsanto’s Roundup-Ready crops for Brunei, suggesting that, like the news media beholding to their food company advertisers and scientists compromised by government and corporate grants, he might not be an altogether disinterested party in this debate.
My confidence in Druker’s message has only grown as the news media almost daily show how accurately he has portrayed them in his chapter on their “malfunction.” As my confidence in Druker has grown, so too has my fear and concern grown. He tells us how much more we have learned about the utter unpredictability of the results of such gross genetic tampering since the 1980s, when the bioengineering movement was developing its head of steam, but all the new warning signs have been ignored at the highest levels of government decision-making. The GMO juggernaut just plunges heedlessly ahead as if on autopilot.
When I wrote my poem “Boomerang” back in the 1970s, with its vague foreboding about the course of technology, I had in mind some cataclysm related to nuclear physics—and the Fukushima disaster keeps reminding us that I might be right—but after having read Altered Genes, Twisted Truth, I now fear that the disaster might just as easily have its origin in the field of molecular biology.
* I have not provided page numbers because I used the Kindle version, which, instead of page numbers corresponding to those in the book, has its own pinpoint locations. Readers wishing to verify the quotes in the printed version may do so from the quote’s context; with a Kindle it’s easily done with a word search, which is why I left out the Kindle location.
May 11, 2015