Where’s the science?
Scientists who have studied Smith’s books, Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette, have asked the critical scientific questions that the council members did not. Bruce Chassy, a well known molecular biologist and food scientist, studied Smith’s books and presentations and wrote critiques of each of Smith’s claims about the hazards of GE-foods at the website, academicsreview.org/reviewed-individuals/jeffrey-smith/.
“The ‘scientific studies’ that Smith says support his theories are thoroughly contradicted by a vast body of data and scientific experience; they are wholly irresponsible,” Chassy wrote. “In his single-minded campaign against GM crops, Smith has shown an amazing capacity to ignore the scientific literature on almost every topic he discusses.” Chassy also noted that Smith has been a guest on the popular Dr. Oz television program where he made claims about the hazards of GE-foods although he has “no scientific or medical background.” Smith’s claims on the show elicited a letter signed by more than 100 independent scientists refuting Smith’s “highly misleading and inaccurate information,” Chassy added. Such a unified response from scientists is unusual.
I met Derek Brewer, another member of GMO-Free Hawaii, just prior to a council hearing on banning GE crops. Like Bondera, he runs a diversified organic farm. Brewer came to Hawaii in 2011. When asked why he opposed GE crops, he said it was based on “contamination, cross-pollination, the toxins and poisons used as genetic modifications of crops and their potential effects on both humans, pollinators and beneficial insects.” Brewer is a friendly, high-energy guy. He described how GE crops have the potential to make people sick from the flu and have been implicated in the global obesity problem. “On the Hawaiian Islands there are birth defects and health issues due to GE organisms and their associated pesticides,” he said. When asked where he got his information, he replied, “A lot of it is from the ‘Red Book’ and Jeffrey Smith.”
Brewer has a military background and says he is self-taught in biology. He describes Smith as a leader in the field of biology. Brewer and GMO-Free Hawaii were responsible for inviting Smith to make his presentation as an “expert” in the field. As Brewer continued his fast-paced talk, I found that I agreed with some of his comments about our society’s wasteful habit of discarding food and often failing to use our resources wisely. But when it came to an understanding of GE crops and basic biology, he and I couldn’t be further apart.
Brewer went on to describe an increase in farmer suicides in India due to Monsanto corn and the role GE crops have in colony collapse disorder of bees. I had heard these claims before. At the end of the interview, I asked him if I could reply to his comments. I explained that no GE corn was ever grown in India but that GE cotton was. The farmer suicides attributed to GE cotton in India were a tragedy but were not related to GE cotton. Analysis of data before and after the adoption of GE cotton shows no changes in the levels of farmer suicides. An Indian activist, Vandana Shiva, created this myth as part of her anti-biotech campaign. In addition, there is no evidence linking GE crops to colony collapse disorder of bees. My own research during the past decade demonstrates that GE crops are not harmful to important natural enemies that control pest outbreaks.
Brewer seemed surprised to hear a scientist say things that contradicted what he had read in Smith’s books and the ‘Red Book’, but he listened. I told him I admired his passion, but wished he had learned more about the other side of the issues from people like Miyasaka and other scientists who made presentations at the hearings. At the end, we shook hands and parted ways.
A few minutes later as I waited outside for the hearings to resume, I saw Brewer smoking a cigarette. “Bad habit, I know,” he said sheepishly. I nodded. He continued, “We grow them organically,” as if to suggest this lessened the known harm of smoking. I wanted to tell him smoking is scientifically proven to cause cancer, but consuming genetically engineered foods is not.