You might not have heard of one Jeffrey Smith.
Unless you’re a member of the Natural Law Party or you’re forking over tuition for your kids to attend the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment, which is based on the principles of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the thoroughly discredited Indian spiritual leader whose followers once tried to take over an Oregon farming community by flooding the area with members of their religious cult. Smith has been actively involved
with both groups
But Smith is notable not just for his New Age connections to questionable spiritual leaders but also for his relentless promotion of anti-biotech rhetoric, including his latest self-published effort, Genetic Roulette, a book in which he details 65 separate ways that GMO technology causes harm. Smith, who is based in Fairfield, Iowa, has become one of the most widely quoted opponents of biotech ag—despite his lack of scientific credentials or formal training on the subject.
However, there’s now a counterattack underway. Prof. Bruce Chassy, Associate Executive Director of the University of Illinois Campus Biotechnology Center and Assistant Dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, and David Tribe, an Australian scientist who has his own pro-GM blog have teamed up on the new according to a new website called Academics Review website to debunk Smith’s theories. They state that, “The so-called ‘scientific studies’ that Smith says support his theories are thoroughly contradicted by a vast body of data and scientific experience. 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.”
As a gifted communicator, however, Smith has been particularly adept at getting his message out online, where he spreads his misinformation about biotech.
Here are a few excerpts of the debunking that Chassy and Tribe have prepared:
Genetic Roulette claim: GE potatoes (bioengineered to produce endogenous insecticide) damaged the digestive tracts and other organs of lab rats. The studies were published in the British medical journal The Lancet.
The truth: A panel of experts, the Royal Society and food-safety scientists in regulatory agencies around the world, all have concluded that the study does not demonstrate that the GM potatoes were unsafe in any way. Two separate expert panels reviewed this research and concluded that both the experimental design and conduct of the experiments were fatally flawed, and that no scientific conclusion should be drawn from the work. Experts who reviewed the data stated that there were no meaningful differences between control and experimental groups, that the same cellular differences could be seen in all groups. The diets were protein-deficient and different groups of rats received different diets. Some rats were fed raw potatoes – raw potatoes are toxic to rats and might cause disturbances to gastrointestinal cells.
Genetic Roulette claim: 12 cows in Hesse, Germany, died mysteriously after being fed significant amounts of a GE corn, Bt 176 from Syngenta, which was forced to compensate the farmer.
The truth: “There is no real evidence that the Bt corn had anything to do with the loss of the cows. The fact that Syngenta reimbursed the farmer was not an admission of guilt but an attempt at good customer relations. Thousands of cows have eaten that corn with no ill effects. Investigators from the Robert Koch Institute concluded that Bt 176 corn was not the cause of death; they suggested a common cause of animal death, chronic botulism. Moreover, the kinds of changes in DNA described for Bt 176 have never been implicated in adverse effects. Most of the fear-mongering about DNA changes reflect a lack of awareness of the extensive changes in DNA that occur in the conventional plant breeding techniques that we have used for many years. DNA change isn’t bad; it’s the objective of all breeding.”
Genetic Roulette claim: Gene insertion creates genome-wide changes in gene expression, which are not predictable and have not been fully investigated in currently approved GE crops. These massive changes have multiple health-related effects.
The truth: Smith’s speculations that transgene insertion disrupts gene expression in GM plants were based on one experiment performed with animal cells. A number of similar experiments done with plants demonstrate exactly the opposite. The creation of a new GM wheat variety, for example, causes fewer changes in gene expression than does conventional cross-pollination breeding methods. Furthermore, the process of screening thousands of plants for those with the desired properties during the commercial development of a new crop variety allows breeders to reject any plants that have drastic alterations.
There’s more—much more—on the Academics Review website. It may not have the catchiest title ever conceived, but the information compiled by Chassy and Tribe is as rock-solid scientifically as hypesters like Jeffrey Smith are slick and self-promoting.
›› To learn more about anti-biotech debunking, visit http://academicsreveiw.org.
Dan Murphy is a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator
You might not have heard of one Jeffrey Smith.
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