Biotech Propaganda Cooks Dangers out of GM Potatoes

Don’t worry your little heads over the gene-spliced foods on your plates. Just trust companies like Monsanto when they tell you their genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are perfectly safe.

That’s the upshot of a new website created on behalf of the biotech industry by GMO advocates Bruce Chassy and David Tribe. While they attempt to discredit the scientific evidence in my book Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, instead they offer priceless examples of distortion, denial, and spin. Their site is yet another example of why we can’t trust GMOs, Monsanto, or the so-called scientists who support them.
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Anniversary of a Whistleblowing Hero

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Twelve years ago, a 150-second TV broadcast changed our world; everyone everywhere owes a debt of gratitude to the man whose life it turned upside down—in his effort to protect ours. On August 10, 1998, eminent scientist Dr. Arpad Pusztai (pronounced Poos-tie) dared to speak the truth.

He had been an enthusiastic supporter of genetic engineering, working on cutting edge safety research with genetically modified (GM) foods. But to his surprise, his experiments showed that GM foods were inherently dangerous. When he relayed his concerns during a short television interview in the UK, things got ugly. With support from the highest levels of government, biotech defenders quickly mobilized a coordinated attack campaign trying to distort and cover up the evidence.

It worked for a while, but when an order of Parliament lifted Dr. Pusztai’s gag order, the revelations touched off a media firestorm that ultimately kicked GM foods out of European supermarkets, and derailed the industry’s timetable to quickly replace virtually all food with genetically engineered alternatives.

I recount the dramatic story of Dr. Pusztai below. In Part 2, I respond point-by-point to the biotech industry’s denial and spin over the Pusztai affair, which is still being hyped in their new attack website.

Pusztai’s Hot Potatoes

By early 1996, genetically modified tomatoes had been sold in US supermarkets for more than a year, and GM soy, corn, and cottonseed were about to be widely planted. But not a single peer-reviewed study on the safety of GM foods had been published, and there was not even an agreed-upon protocol for answering the question,"Is this stuff safe?”

The UK government was about to change all that, and Hungarian born chemist Dr. Arpad Pusztai was their man to do it. He beat out 27 competing scientists for a £1.6 million grant to develop a safety testing protocol; it was supposed to eventually be required for all GM food approvals in Europe.

A Spud with Fire-Power

Pusztai’s team was working with the vegetable equivalent of a James Bond car—complete with built-in weaponry. A potato was outfitted with an assassin gene from the snowdrop plant; the gene produced"GNA lectin,” a protein that kills insects.

How did Dr. Pusztai feel about the fact that his prestigious Rowett Institute was preparing to release killer potatoes into supermarkets worldwide? Fine, actually. He knew that the GNA lectin was harmless—not to insects mind you, but to us mammals. Dr. Pusztai was the world’s leading expert on lectin proteins, and the GNA lectin was the one he knew most about. He had studied it for nearly seven years.

But when Dr. Pusztai fed the GM potato to rats using his new safety testing protocol, he got a shock. Nearly every system in the rats’ bodies was adversely affected—several in just 10 days. Their brains, livers, and testicles were smaller, while their pancreases and intestines were enlarged. The liver was partially atrophied. Organs related to the immune system, including the thymus and the spleen, showed significant changes. Their white blood cells responded to an immune challenge more slowly, indicating immune system damage.

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In all cases, the GM potato created proliferative cell growth in the stomach and small and large intestines; the lining was significantly thicker than controls.  Although no tumors were detected, such growth can be precancerous.

Side Effects of Genetic Engineering Implicated

Dr. Pusztai and his team knew that the GNA lectin had not caused the damage. Other rats had been fed natural potatoes spiked with the same amount of GNA insecticide that the GM spud produced—and they did fine. The control group fed natural potatoes without added lectin were also in good shape. And in a previous experiment, Dr. Pusztai had fed rats an enormous quantity of the lectin, about 700 times the amount produced in the GM potato, again with no effect.

The damage to the rats, it appeared, came rather from the unintended side effects of the genetic engineering process. These effects (from gene insertion and cell cloning) may include massive collateral damage in a plant’s DNA, with hundreds or thousands of mutations. Important natural genes can be inadvertently turned off, permanently turned on, deleted, reversed, scrambled, moved, fragmented, or changed in their activity level.

Dr. Pusztai wanted to find out precisely what went wrong in his potatoes, so he asked the government to provide more funds to conduct follow-up studies. But Prime Minister Tony Blair, his ministers, and his entire political party, were all unapologetic biotech cheerleaders trying desperately to promote them to a skeptical public. Exposing problems with GMO technology wasn’t on the government’s agenda. Additional funds were not forthcoming.

Biotech Damage Control Kicks In

The UK television show "World in Action" asked Dr. Pusztai for an interview. With permission from his Institute’s director, he spoke generally about his concerns with GMOs based on the findings. He was careful not to reveal the details of his study, which was still unpublished.

His 150-second interview was aired on August 10, 1998. The European Press went wild and Dr. Pusztai was propelled to the status of hero at the Rowett Institute. The Institute’s director, Professor Phillip James, took over all the publicity efforts, described the research as a huge advance in science, and wrote in a press release,"a range of carefully controlled studies underlie the basis of Dr. Pusztai’s concerns.”

On the afternoon of August 11th, two phone calls were allegedly placed from the UK prime minister’s office, forwarded through the Institute’s receptionist, to Professor James. Dr. Pusztai’s hero status was revoked.

The next morning, the director suspended Dr. Pusztai after 35 years of service. He was silenced with threats of a lawsuit and his twenty member research team disbanded. The government never implemented their GMO safety testing protocol.

The Institute released numerous statements, some contradicting each other, others misrepresenting the research, but all designed to discredit Dr. Pusztai and the implications of his findings.

Seven months (and one heart attack) later, Dr. Pusztai’s gag order was lifted when the Parliament invited him to testify. As the true details of the study began to emerge, the media responded. About 750 articles on GMOs were pumped out within the month.

Biotech advocates swung into action. According to a leaked document obtained by The Independent on Sunday, three government ministers prepared"an astonishingly detailed strategy for spinning, and mobilizing support for” GM foods."One of [the] ministers’ main concerns,” said the report,"was to rubbish research by Dr. Arpad Pusztai.”

The ministers’ campaign relied on the participation of certain scientists, including those in the Royal Society, who could voice uncompromising support for GMOs. According to the newspaper, many of these scientists, while promoted as"independent,” had received compensation directly or indirect from the biotech companies. The Independent admonished the government’s actions as a"a cynical public relations exercise.”

But the spin campaign was too little, too late. By the end of April 1999, just 10 weeks after Dr. Pusztai’s gag order was lifted, the public’s distrust of GMOs reached a tipping point. Use of GM ingredients had become a marketing liability. Within a single week nearly every major food company committed to stop using GMOs in Europe.

Editor Threatened

With his data finally returned to him, Dr. Pusztai and a colleague submitted their paper to a renowned scientific journal, The Lancet. Its editor, Richard Horton, told The Guardian,"there was intense pressure on The Lancet from all quarters, including the Royal Society, to suppress publication.” The paper passed the peer review and was set to appear on October 15, 1999.

On October 13, Horton received a call from a senior member of the Royal Society. According to the Guardian, Horton,"said the phone call began in a ‘very aggressive manner.’ He said he was called ‘immoral’ and accused of publishing Dr. Pusztai’s paper which he ‘knew to be untrue.’ Towards the end of the call Dr. Horton said the caller told him that if he published the Pusztai paper it would ‘have implications for his personal position’ as editor.”

Although Horton declined to name the caller, the Guardian"identified him as Peter Lachmann, the former vice-president and biological secretary of the Royal Society and president of the Academy of Medical Sciences.” Lachmann had been one of the co-signers on the Royal Society’s open letter attacking Pusztai. He also had extensive financial ties to the biotech industry. In spite of his threats, The Lancet went forward with publication.

Courage, Integrity, and the Public’s Right to Know

In the years since this controversy, Dr. Pusztai has given more than 200 lectures around the world on GMOs. He has been commissioned by the German government, academic publications, and others to do comprehensive analyses of GMO safety studies. In 2005, he received the Whistleblower Award from the Federation of German Scientists (VDW). And in 2009, he and his wife, Dr. Susan Bardocz—also an expert on GMO safety and formerly of the Rowett Institute—were presented with the Stuttgart Peace Prize for their tireless advocacy for independent risk research, as well as their courage, scientific integrity, and their undaunted insistence on the public’s right to know the truth.

In 2008, on the tenth anniversary of his TV show, Dr. Pusztai reflected:

"On this anniversary I have to admit that, unfortunately, not much has changed since 1998. In one of the few sentences I said in my broadcast ten years ago, I asked for a credible GM testing protocol to be established that would be acceptable to the majority of scientists and to people in general. 10 years on we still haven’t got one. . .

"All of us asked for independent, transparent and inclusive research into the safety of GM plants, and particularly those used in foods. There is not much sign of this either. There are still ‘many opinions but very few data;’ less than three dozen peer-reviewed scientific papers have been published describing the results of work relating to GM safety that could actually be regarded as being of an academic standard; and the majority of even these is from industry-supported labs. . .”

Although pro-GM governments and the biotech industry continue ignore the mounting evidence of harm, there is now a movement among many medical doctors, scientists, and the public, to reject GM food, create a tipping point of consumer rejection against them in North America, and put GMOs back into the laboratory where they belong.

I describe Dr. Pusztai’s story in more detail in the first chapter of Seeds of Deception; his findings are also featured among the 65 documented health risks of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in my book Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods.

New Website, Old Lies

Earlier this year, GMO advocates Bruce Chassy and David Tribe launched an attack site against Genetic Roulette. As part of their attempt to defend the safety of GMOs, they assail Dr. Pusztai’s work by reiterating the same faulty, self-contradicting arguments that were made during the smear campaign.

See Part 2 of this article, where their misleading arguments are exposed. This is the first in a series of point-by-point rebuttals to their website’s allegations.

International bestselling author and filmmaker Jeffrey M. Smith is the executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology. His first book, Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating, is the world’s bestselling and #1 rated book on GMOs. His second, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, documents 65 health risks of the GM foods Americans eat everyday. Both are distributed by Chelsea Green Publishing. To help you choose healthier, non-GMO brands, use the Non-GMO Shopping Guide.

Pseudo-Scientific Defense of GMO Safety is Smoke and Mirrors

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Three years after I wrote Genetic Roulette, pro-GM scientists have finally taken me up on my challenge to supply evidence that counters any of the 65 risks highlighted in the book. So, it will be a great pleasure for me to respond to the 65 arguments recently posted on a new attack-Jeffrey website. Their effort offers a priceless opportunity to not only revisit each health risk, but also to show more precisely where and how the biotech industry comes up short in its defense. Be sure to subscribe to my Huffington Post blog to catch the fun.

In my initial challenge to the GMO industry, I sought rigorous, independent scientific data that would enrich the global discussion and better characterize GMO risks. But the posts written by biotech apologists Bruce Chassy and David Tribe demonstrate without doubt how flimsy and unsupported the industry’s claim is that GMOs are safe. Their evidence is neither independent nor rigorous. Instead, Chassy and Tribe merely dust off the same old false assumptions and blatant fabrications that have long been exposed as hollow and even shameless. GMWatch describes it as “disinformation and ad hominem attack dressed up as ‘the open-minded search for truth.’”

Dr. Brian John offers this take on the new site:

The whole exercise is utterly grotesque—and is based on the hoary old line that they (Chassy and Tribe) represent “proper” science and that anybody who disagrees with them or who provides “inconvenient” evidence is by definition either a charlatan or a nutter. Their line is that proper peer-reviewed science always shows that GM products are entirely safe, and that on the other side there is nothing but “misinformation.” That of course is a grotesque distortion—there are scores of peer-reviewed papers that Chassy and Tribe have to explain away as aberrations or as based on fraudulent research. In a bizarre sort of way, one has to admire their strange obsession, and one cannot dispute the vast amount of effort that they have put in to their latest exercise in vilification. Poison pours off every page on the web site.

And this is from the review of the site by GMWatch,

New Site Pushes Disinformation

The only thing that’s surprising about this desperate attempt on the part of the GM brigade to smear Jeffrey Smith’s book Genetic Roulette is that it took them so long. Jeffrey’s book has been out there since 2007 and we have seen it light fires under activists and scientists alike. They usually say something like: “I had no idea that all this scientific research showing problems with GM foods was out there.” Then they say: “Why weren’t we told?”

Jeffrey performed a great public service in publishing his book. But—and we hope he takes this as the compliment it’s meant to be—Jeffrey emphatically is not the point of this book. It’s a collection of scientific studies—many of them peer reviewed and published—showing negative findings on GM crops and foods. There are also cautionary statements by conservative, careful, and experienced scientists, based on solid data.

All Jeffrey does is present this dry-ish material in a way that’s understandable by the most scientifically challenged and jargon-phobic among us. As a talented science communicator, he stands aside and lets the findings speak for themselves, in the clearest of terms.

As Tribe and Chassy want to rubbish Jeffrey Smith’s book, they also have to rubbish the work of the scientists who carried out these studies, along with the judgment of the editors and peer reviewers of the scientific journals where the papers were published.

Tribe and Chassy will also have to prove that all the scientists within the US government who expressed warnings about the dangers of GMOs, and who are quoted in Jeffrey’s book, were out of their minds when they spoke or wrote those words. And if they were, then what does that say for the US regulatory system that the biotech industry likes to put forward as assuring safety? Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, does it

So Jeffrey Smith’s great sin, it seems, is to let the science speak for itself. This is the opposite of what Tribe and Chassy do. They grab a selection of worrying scientific findings that are foregrounded in the book. Then they engage in a childish game of wild speculation and distraction in a desperate attempt to make the data mean something other than what they obviously do mean. . .

When I wrote Genetic Roulette, I collaborated with more than 30 scientists, referenced hundreds of publications, and had each of the 65 health risks reviewed by at least three scientists. We all did our very best to make sure the information was accurate and up-to-date. I will likewise take the time necessary to prepare proper responses to Chassy and Tribe’s arguments. Look for them on my Huffington Post blog.

Safe eating,

Jeffrey

Monsanto: The World’s Poster Child for Corporate Manipulation and Deceit – Part 10

When Forbes magazine declared Monsanto as the Company of the Year for 2009, millions of surprised people were forced to reevaluate their opinions about a major corporation. Now they no longer trust Forbes.

Monsanto is one of the most despised corporations on earth. This is the last in a series of articles that expose their not-so-hidden dark side and how, if unrestrained, Monsanto could unleash a cataclysm. Indeed, it has already started…

Part 10 of 10

Un-recallable Contamination

In spite of the enormous health dangers, the environmental impacts may be worse still. That is because we don’t have a technology to fully clean up the contaminated gene pool. The self-propagating genetic pollution released into the environment from Monsanto’s crops can outlast the effects of climate change and nuclear waste.

Replacing Nature: “Nothing Shall Be Eaten That We Don’t Own”

As Monsanto has moved forward with its master plan to replace nature, they have led the charge in buying up seed businesses and are now the world’s largest. At least 200 independent seed companies have disappeared over 13 years, non-GMO seed availability is dwindling, and Monsanto is jacking up their seed prices dramatically. Corn is up more than 30%, soy nearly 25%, over 2008 prices. (PDF)

An Associated Press exposé reveals how Monsanto’s onerous contracts allowed them to manipulate, then dominate, the seed industry using unprecedented legal restrictions. One contract provision, for example, “prevented bidding wars” and “likely helped Monsanto buy 24 independent seed companies throughout the Farm Belt over the last few years: that corn seed agreement says that if a smaller company changes ownership, its inventory with Monsanto’s traits ‘shall be destroyed immediately.’”

With that restriction in place, the seed companies couldn’t even think of selling to a company other than Monsanto. According to attorney David Boies, who represents DuPont—owner of Pioneer Seeds: “If the independent seed company is losing their license and has to destroy their seeds, they’re not going to have anything, in effect, to sell,” Boies said. “It requires them to destroy things—destroy things they paid for—if they go competitive. That’s exactly the kind of restriction on competitive choice that the antitrust laws outlaw.” Boies was a prosecutor on the antitrust case against Microsoft. He is now working with DuPont in their civil antitrust lawsuit against Monsanto.

Monsanto also has the right to cancel deals and wipe out the inventory of a business if the confidentiality clauses are violated.

“‘We now believe that Monsanto has control over as much as 90 percent of (seed genetics). This level of control is almost unbelievable,’ said Neil Harl, agricultural economist at Iowa State University who has studied the seed industry for decades.”

Monsanto also controls and manipulates farmers through onerous contracts. Troy Roush, for example, is one of hundreds accused by Monsanto of illegally saving their seeds. The company requires farmers to sign a contract that they will not save and replant GM seeds from their harvest. That way Monsanto can sell its seeds—at a premium—each season.

Although Roush maintains his innocence, he was forced to settle with Monsanto after two and a half years of court battles. He says his “family was just destroyed [from] the stress involved.” Many farmers are afraid, according to Roush, because Monsanto has “created a little industry that serves no other purpose than to wreck farmers’ lives.” Monsanto has collected an estimated $200 million from farmers thus far.

Roush says, “They are in the process of owning food, all food.” Paraguayan farmer Jorge Galeano says, “Its objective is to control all of the world’s food production.” Renowned Indian physicist and community organizer Vandana Shiva says, “If they control seed, they control food; they know it, it’s strategic. It’s more powerful than bombs; it’s more powerful than guns. This is the best way to control the populations of the world.”

Our food security lies in diversity—both biodiversity, and diversity of owners and interests. Any single company that consolidates ownership of seeds, and therefore power over the food supply, is a dangerous threat. Of all the corporations in the world, however, the one we should trust the least is Monsanto. With them at the helm, the impact could be cataclysmic.