Anti-GMO author comes to Chico

Jeffrey Smith, author of a book that indicts the biotech industry and U.S government as being complicit in bringing genetically altered—and insufficiently tested—food to America’s dinner table, paid a visit to Chico this week.

Smith’s talk at Chico State University on Sept. 29 came after the News & Review’s deadline, but we did talk with him on the phone the day before about his book Seeds of Deception and Measure D (see Editorial, page 4).

Smith said he started speaking out against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) about a decade ago. Two years earlier, he said, the Food and Drug Administration issued a statement that basically said it was unaware of any existing information that suggested GMO food products were dangerous.

The problem was the scientists working for government agencies and doing the research on GMOs had their reports squelched by their superiors, who were not scientists. The head of the United States Department of Agriculture at the time was a former attorney at Monsanto, the biotech industry giant that to date is responsible for much of the GMO corn and soybean crops grown in this country. That same man is now a vice president at Monsanto, Smith said.

There is very good chance, he said, that negative effects from eating GMOs, which are in about 70 percent of the food Americans now consume, will take years or generations to manifest.

“No one,” he said, “is monitoring this.”

Smith, who lives in Iowa, can speak non-stop about his subject matter, rattling off statistics and dates of events without missing a beat. But he talks with a certain calmness that somehow seems connected to a confidence in the veracity of what he is saying.

He talks of respected scientists here and abroad who were threatened with firing or, worse, intimidated physically.

He warned of possible new allergies being introduced by GMOs, noting that in England that allergy to soy products jumped 50 percent after Monsanto’s Roundup-Ready soy was brought into the country. Even though scientists have confirmed that allergies can be transferred to foods by genetic manipulation, there are still no “robust” allergy tests being done on GMO foods.

The more people learn about genetically modified foods, he said, the more they reject them. But the press, at least here in America, is not helping.

“They are not reporting anything at all, or if they do it reads like a brochure for the biotech industry,” Smith said.

Smith came at the request of GE-FREE, the group behind Measure D and the effort to ban genetically engineered crops from Butte County. He said the idea of GMO-free zones “is both a myth and a necessity.”

Keeping a region truly free of genetically engineered crops at this stage of the game is probably impossible, but establishing such zones serves as a "delay tactic" as the fight against GMOs unfolds.