The Market for GMOs is About to Tip OverVitality Magazine July 1, 2013
Interview with Jeffrey Smith – Bestselling Author and Documentary Filmmaker
Jeffrey Smith is one of the best-known global leaders in the movement to end the genetic engineering of our food supply. His first book, Seeds of Deception, has been the world’s best-selling book on the subject for over 10 years. He has worked with scientists around the world to compile the documented health risks of genetically engineered foods, which were published in his second book, Genetic Roulette, and which continue to appear in his writings on www.ResponsibleTechnology.org. His feature-length documentary Genetic Roulette – The Gamble of Our Lives was awarded 2012 Movie of the Year (Solari Report) and Transformational Film of the Year (AwareGuide), and has been seen by about 2 million people in virtually every nation. Jeffrey is the executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, which publishes the Non-GMO Shopping Guide and works around the world to educate citizens, political leaders, scientists, and the medical community about the dangers of genetically engineered foods.
Q: Jeffrey, what changes have you seen over the years you have worked on this issue?
A: When I started out in 1996, hardly anyone knew what a GMO was. In fact, that’s why I got involved. I had heard about the significant health and environmental dangers from a genetic engineer. I understood that the products of this new and dangerous science were about to be deployed throughout the food supply and released into the environment where they could never be fully recalled. The mainstream media in the U.S. was silent on the issue, and the few people who knew about the technology were largely repeating the mythology created by public relations firms of biotech companies like Monsanto.
Today, the situation has turned the corner. In fact our Institute just declared in June the achievement of a new stage in the tipping point of consumer rejection against GMOs.
Q: What do you mean by tipping point and why are we in a new stage?
A: In 1999, GMOs were kicked out of Europe. It wasn’t the government that did it. It was Unilever and Nestlé, followed by the rest of the food industry. This resulted from significant coverage by the newspapers about the risks of genetically engineered foods for health. Consumers were not willing to take that risk. The food companies were caught completely by surprise, but quickly lined up to publicly commit to remove all GMO derivatives from their foods sold in Europe.
Q: What about in North America?
A: The media didn’t cover GMO risks here. So the same companies that took out GMOs overseas continued to sell these high-risk foods to us unsuspecting North Americans.
So, our Institute designed and launched educational campaigns and worked in a coalition of other organizations to motivate consumers to protect their health by choosing non-GMO foods. We also made a Non-GMO Shopping Guide available to help people identify these healthier foods. Our goal was to generate a tipping point of consumer rejection in the U.S. and Canada to eliminate GMOs from the marketplace.
Q: Why did you choose the market pressure approach and not a political solution?
A: Monsanto has a legendary influence over the U.S. government. If you look at Wikileaks you see that the State Department has been deployed around the world to promote biotechnology and Monsanto’s interests. The FDA GMO policy was overseen by Monsanto’s former attorney, Michael Taylor, who later became Monsanto’s chief lobbyist and is now back at the FDA in charge of America’s food safety. The policy that Taylor was in charge of allows GMOs on the market without safety studies or labelling.
The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture was the biotech governor of the year in Iowa, and key positions throughout the Obama administration are held by pro-biotech people who formerly worked directly or indirectly for Monsanto’s interests. The policy for every administration since the Reagan era has been to promote biotechnology.
Q: Fair enough, the political route is a problem. But how many people avoiding GMOs do you think it would take to generate a tipping point?
A: We have said that as little as 5% of the U.S. population should be sufficient. We figure that if 15 million North Americans or 5.6 million households were avoiding brands that contain GM ingredients, this would result in the drop in market share of food companies that they could identify as resulting from non-GMO preferences. I don’t think we have reached 15 million but we do have millions. Nonetheless, we are already seeing the stages of a tipping point.
Q: Have you achieved this?
A: I don’t think we have reached 15 million but we do have millions. Nonetheless, we are already seeing the stages of a tipping point.
Q: What’s your evidence?
A: Over the last few years there has been more demand for non-GMO products. In fact, 2012 sales of non-GMO-labelled products in the U.S. increased more than any other for health and wellness category. Our shopping guide, at www.nongmoshoppingguide.com, has about 10,000 products that are verified as non-GMO. And companies like Whole Foods say that when a product becomes verified as non-GMO, sales increase by 15-30%.
Thousands of doctors are now prescribing non-GMO diets to their patients, and many report dramatic recoveries from a variety of diseases and disorders. The stories are amazing and consistent. And these people who have achieved better health, and in some cases completely reversed a serious debilitating disorder for themselves and their children, are unstoppable in their enthusiasm to spread the word about the dangers of GMOs.
Q: You said you achieved a new stage in the tipping point. What’s that?
A: I call it the “awake and scramble” stage for the food industry. First, they wake up to the fact that anti-GMO sentiment must be taken seriously and is gaining momentum; then they realize if they don’t act immediately to secure a supply, their competitors who do become non-GMO may gain more market share.
This stage was heralded by information revealed in a New York Times article on May 27th, 2013, entitled “Seeking Food Ingredients That Aren’t Gene-Altered.” When read from the perspective of a food brand manager, it conveyed the substantial table-to-farm ripple effect of this powerful non-GMO consumer trend. It highlighted the following:
• A powerful self-organizing consumer movement has emerged, as evidenced by the Marches against Monsanto on May 25th, which drew participation from more than 2 million people in 52 countries.
• The anti-GMO consumer trend is reflected in widespread political action, with more than 24 U.S. states introducing GMO-labelling bills.
• Just since October, hundreds of companies have enrolled in The Non-GMO Project, with many more expected.
• Companies that were already non-GMO are worried that newcomers would use up their supply of non-GMO ingredients; some companies are already going overseas to get their non-GMO ingredients.
• Food processors are seeking more non-GMO soy and corn due to the increased demand, which had already driven up the prices per bushel for farmers.
Q: I can see how this information could get GMO companies quite worried.
A: Precisely. But there’s more. Three days before the New York Times article appeared, the agriculture magazine The Western Producer described the unprecedented “market for non-GMO canola in the west coast” which “seems to have come on very quickly and very strong.” It quoted a food trend expert, who told the Canola Council of Canada’s annual convention: “If there is anyone in this room who thinks that GMOs are not going to be an issue, I’m telling you you’re smoking dope.”
If food companies were still doubting that the trend was real, the events over the following three weeks likely set them straight:
• The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that genetically engineered Roundup Ready wheat – which had not been approved for use in any country in the world – was discovered growing in an Oregon farmer’s field. The plants were apparently escapees from Monsanto’s earlier field trials, authorized in 16 states between 1998 and 2005, but not officially grown in an Oregon trial after 2001. Japan and South Korea immediately suspended U.S. imports of wheat. Other markets are considering the same. This incident, reminiscent of two earlier contamination episodes that cost about $1 billion each, drove home a key point to the food industry. GMO pollen drift and seed movement represent a completely uncontrollable risk that is not balanced by any intrinsic reward.
• GMO-labelling bills have been passed in Connecticut and Maine. Although they will not go into effect until a few more states pass similar legislation, the trend is clear. And Washington State has a GMO-labelling ballot initiative expected to pass in the fall.
• Mainstream news coverage on GMOs in the U.S. has been unprecedented.
• And more studies were released highlighting safety risks of GMOs. For example, the insecticide produced in every cell of genetically engineered Bt-corn may damage blood cells; and pigs fed GM feed had inflamed and ulcerated stomachs, as well as enlarged uteruses.
Q: Companies in the natural food arena are switching in greater numbers to non-GMO status. But how widespread is this trend among mainstream brands?
A: We understand that some other mainstream products that are not sold in the natural food industry will be announcing non-GMO status this year. Once they do, that’s the next stage of the tipping point process – what I call the “The Battle for Market Share.” If the newly announced non-GMO products start gaining sales and eroding the market share of their GMO competitor, then we anticipate a full clean out of GMO direct derivatives from the food industry soon after. If, however, non-GMO claims do not drive greater sales, then we risk stalling the tipping point trend.
Q: So this is a critical time?
A: It is absolutely critical. We need to drive customers to non-GMO products in the mainstream supermarkets.
Q: What is your strategy to do that?
A: It makes most sense to reach out to the demographic groups that are most likely to switch their diet with the least amount of effort. Our Institute is therefore gearing up to do outreach to the following populations: parents of young kids, especially moms; religious groups that are uneasy about genetic engineering; healthcare practitioners; patients suffering from disorders that are linked to GMO risks; and pet owners.
Moms, of course, have been the driver for healthier food purchases for decades. They may not choose healthy food just for themselves, but they will often go to the ends of the Earth to protect their children. We have interviewed numerous moms who describe dramatic health improvements in their kids after eliminating GMOs from their diet. The disorders which showed improvement range from weight problems, allergies, asthma, skin conditions, and G.I. tract disorders, to headaches. Many describe an improvement in the behaviour of the children, including better grades, less impulsive and aggressive behaviour, increased ability to concentrate, and even improvements in autistic symptoms.
Q: How did you come up with pet owners as a group?
A: They came to us. We heard from veterinarians who saw clear trends in deteriorating health of cats and dogs soon after GMOs were introduced into the human and pet food supply. And when pet owners, like moms, replaced GMO ingredients with non-GMO food, they saw significant improvements in the health of their loved ones. We’ve heard stories of diarrhea, inflamed bowel, and itching going away in just days.
Q: Are medical doctors catching on to this as well?
A: Whenever I speak at medical conferences, a large percentage of the audience responds by committing to advise patients to remove GMOs from their diet. In fact, after studying the animal-feeding studies on GMOs, theAmerican Academy of Environmental Medicine urged all doctors to do just that. They identified numerous disorders among the GMO-fed lab animals, including the same categories that people said would improve when they switch to a non-GMO diet. These include gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, reproductive problems, organ damage, and dysfunctional regulation of cholesterol and insulin.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these same disorders and diseases have been on the rise in the North American population since GMOs were introduced in late 1996. Furthermore, the specific qualities of the GMOs on the market are predisposed to produce these types of diseases and disorders. For example, the toxin produced in GMO corn and the toxic herbicide Roundup, which is absorbed into GMO soy, corn, cotton, canola, sugar beets, and alfalfa, are linked to all of these diseases and more. One recent published paper linked Roundup to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, endocrine disruption, birth defects, autism, allergies, anorexia nervosa, and multiple sclerosis. This leads us to the other demographic group: people suffering from diseases that may be related to GMO consumption.
Q: How are you going to convince them of this association?
A: We are already getting testimonials from the doctors and patients themselves. Even specialists working on these diseases are acknowledging that the known risks of GMOs may be contributing to the prevalence or severity of these conditions. I am working with experts to better characterize these associations.
Q: That leaves religion on your list. Have they been receptive to your message?
A: We found that when clergy watch the movie Genetic Roulette – The Gamble of Our Lives, often by the next day they describe GMOs as an abomination and invite us to speak to their congregations. For them, it’s not just about the health dangers. The mere mixing of genes between species and kingdoms and creating odd combinations that were never part of God’s creation strike some religious people as contrary to divine law. For them GMO stands for “God Move Over.”
Q: Tell us about your film.
A: I’ve been blown away by the impact of this film. It’s been seen by about 2 million people in virtually every country, and I’m told that people make changes to their diets immediately. At a 2013 Sun Valley Film Festival screening, for example, about 100 members of the audience rated themselves from 1-100 as to how vigilant they had been at avoiding GMOs. Excluding those in the highest category (80-100), the average rating was 41. By the end of the movie, however, when asked how vigilant they planned to be from now on, their numbers jumped to 91. Likewise, they had initially rated themselves a 28 when asked “How active they’ve been in educating people about GMOs.” That was transformed to 77 going forward.
Q: How can people help with your efforts to drive the tipping point, reach new people, and help eliminate GMOs from our food supply?
A: We invite people to visit ResponsibleTechnology.org and sign up for our newsletter to stay informed of ways to help. In addition we have the Tipping Point Network, which is comprised of individuals who participate in educational outreach in their geographical areas or to specific demographic groups. And we have a speaker-training program available online. We also suggest that people learn to eat healthier non-GMO food by consulting NonGMOShoppingGuide.com, or the free iPhone application called ShopNoGMO. The site also provides ways for people to donate to our nonprofit. This is the most critical need at this point – financial support.
We have the accurate messaging necessary to change people’s diet and we have identified the key targets for education efforts. It is simply a matter of providing the materials, building the coalitions, and funding the educational programs that will help people protect themselves from these dangerous foods.
Q: I wish you success. This is a critical topic that affects everyone who eats.
A: And not just human beings. Once these crops are released into the environment, they cross-pollinate and spread. This can theoretically affect all living beings. And because the self-propagating pollution of the gene pool is unrecallable, it also impacts all future generations.
Q: Thank you for your work on behalf of all of us.
A: For those of us working on this issue, it’s an honour and a privilege.
The Institute for Responsible Technology was founded in 2003 by international bestselling author and consumer advocate, Jeffrey Smith IRT has worked in nearly 40 countries on 6 continents, and is credited with improving government policies and influencing consumer-buying habits. Mr. Smith’s feature-length documentary Genetic Roulette — The Gamble of Our Lives was awarded the 2012 Movie of the Year (Solari Report) and the Transformational Film of the Year (AwareGuide). Described as a “life-changer” and seen by millions world-wide, the film links genetically engineered food to toxic and allergic reactions, infertility, digestive disorders, and numerous problems that have been on the rise in the US population since genetically modified organisms (GMOs) were introduced.
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