The following are important links Jeffrey talks about in the video above:
- NGOs Outline Principles for Governance of Gene Edited Products for Agriculture and the Environment
- Groups slam Commission plans to deregulate new GMOs
- Protect Nature Now
Transcription: Jeffrey’s Take: Major US Environmental Groups Parrot Monsanto’s Talking Points Transcription
This transcript has been edited slightly for clarity
Hi, everyone, Jeffrey Smith, and I’m going to report on something that is pretty critical. There was an article in Nature Biotechnology that was authored by these groups: the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, and the World Wildlife Fund, with help from the Keystone Policy Center. They claimed to put forward a responsible protocol for governing/regulating gene editing in agriculture and in food. What’s interesting is if you don’t understand the history of what the biotech industry has done for regulation, you might read it and think, “Oh, this sounds reasonable.” I’m guessing that some of the well-wishing members of these, in some cases, very respectable and well-meaning organizations thought the same, but they’ve been tricked. They’ve been tricked in a way that’s so bad that if their protocol gets put in place, it could be a disaster for the world and for all of their goals for protecting the environment.
This is a way that Monsanto’s talking points…I use the word “Monsanto” as the biotech industry. We like to demonize Monsanto, and for good reason. They have been able to convince through the well-meaning, smart sounding, reasonable sounding words and talking points, to put forward this in one of the most pro-GMO journals, Nature Biotechnology. I can tell you that I don’t know much about some of these organizations. Center for Science in the Public Interest, they’ve been basically a pro-GMO house for decades. I can talk about them afterwards to give you a little bit more background. But if the Center for Science in the Public Interests speaks about GMOs, just assume they are puppeting Monsanto with a little bit of like saying, “Oh, yeah, we need better regulations. And we’re pro-GMO, and we’re going to do everything we can to get GMOs out there.”
It’s kind of like a Trojan horse. I don’t trust them at all for GMOs, and for good reason, which I’ll explain at the end of the recording. There’s also the World Wildlife Fund. They got blasted nine years ago by more than 80 organizations. They were on a roundtable for sustainable soy with Monsanto and Cargill and said that, “Yes, the genetically engineered soy grown in the Amazon can count as sustainable if it fulfills these needs.” You know, the rest of the world is saying, “Do you have any idea what genetically engineered soy does and why that’s not sustainable?” Evidently they didn’t, and maybe they still don’t. But I don’t really know enough about them. They were blasted by DER SPIEGEL and by the ecologists, saying that they do more for corporations than for the environment. I don’t really know about the World Wildlife Fund.
I’m just sharing what I picked up. I don’t know if they’re purposely misinforming in this article or if they’ve been lied to, because there’s the liars and the lied to. I don’t really know who the players are and how they line up. So this is not against these folks, not against these organizations. Let’s assume the best for a moment, as I tend to do, but not for Monsanto. Here’s the story about what they put out. First of all, there were some very good points that gene edited organisms should not be considered as safe as their conventional counterparts. Now, for those that have been paying any attention to the off target effects and to the chromosomal rearrangements and the chromosomal mayhem of gene editing, it’s like, “Duh, of course it’s not the same level of risk.”
Yet many governments accepted the talking points of the biotech industry, saying, “Oh, no. It’s the same as conventional.” Fortunately there’s a breath of fresh air in this article that says, “Duh, it’s not.” It’s interesting—the first time that any government said that GMOs in general had no greater risk than its conventional counterparts was the United States government. The FDA, in their official policy in May 1992 written by Monsanto’s former attorney Michael Taylor (in direct opposition to and denial of the overwhelming consensus among the scientists working at the FDA)—they said, “GMOs are different and dangerous and needed to be tested.” But the FDA said “No difference.” Michael Taylor said, “No difference,” and that became the U S official policy for GMOs. Now it’s becoming the global policy, especially for gene editing, the new genetic engineering technique that can change the structure of the genome without necessarily inserting foreign material into the genome.
They say, “Oh, because no foreign material is put in, it shouldn’t be called a GMO. It’s safe. It’s predictable.” It’s not! It’s very dangerous, and I speak to scientists all the time who enumerate, along with peer reviewed published research, why and how it is not.
Now, let’s talk about what was a problem in this proposal for regulation. First of all, they missed labeling. That’s not the most important thing, obviously, but they said there should be like an online register of all the things that were introduced. Fine, so that means there’s an online register that says there’s genetically engineered mushrooms. They’re not necessarily on the market, but they were approved. They were ignored by the US government and they said, “We have no regulations over gene edited mushrooms. If you want to introduce it, fine.” So maybe if this group gets its way, some online register would say “Approved: genetically modified mushrooms.”
Maybe it would say “introduced,” but it wouldn’t necessarily say “which” mushroom. If you want to eat mushrooms, you want to know if it’s gene edited, because you may get sick if you eat the gene edited mushrooms and you may not know why. We’ve talked about this before: the process of gene editing can lead to side effects. The particular gene editing that they did was called a “gene knockout.” They knocked out a gene that produces the browning when you slice the mushroom, so these are non-browning mushrooms. They can be sliced and lie about their age. The problem is, years after they were told by the USDA, “We have no regulatory oversight over your gene edited mushrooms, so do what you want, it’s not a government affair,” an article was published in a peer reviewed journal showing that one third of the time gene knockouts don’t work (at least, in that one study) with many, many examples.
Jeffrey Smith (07:59):
But not only do they not work…obviously, something happened, because it wasn’t turning brown, so the protein that’s normally produced was not being produced. But sometimes when it doesn’t work (found out years later), it produces a truncated protein, a misshapen protein, so instead of knocking out the whole gene, some of the sequences remain. When you produce a misshapen or a truncated protein it can become an allergen or a toxin. So we may be, if it’s ever introduced, eating allergens in a mushroom that has never before had those proteins, causing potential anaphylactic shock and death—and according to this group, it doesn’t have to be labeled. It’s ridiculous! It’s stupid! Hello guys, wake up! At least demand labeling. My goodness! Second, here’s where it gets technical. Here’s where their well-meaning, unschooled understanding of this issue gets them into trouble.
The biotech industry wants to create a tiered risk assessment process so that if they think, “Oh, this one has no problem. It’s very, very low risk. We don’t need to do any research on it, any safety studies. This one has less risk, maybe a little bit more risk—okay, minor research. This one has more risk—okay, medium research.” They want to tier it. And they know, and we all know, that if they do they get to use their assumptions about what’s considered to be low risk, and they will front load assumptions of “no risk.” They might do a simple Petri dish example: “It had no demonstration of problems here, so we don’t need to elevate it to animal feeding studies.” Well, they’re going to do their best to present their GMO as low risk. If the government has signed off, saying, “Okay, we don’t need to do an evaluation because the company says, ‘it’s low risk,’” that’s a disaster.
Similarly, the document produced by this coalition said it should be a “product” based assessment, not a “process” based assessment. I’ll refer to that in a specific example: it seems to be logical that it doesn’t matter how you produce the food or the cow or the crop. You just look at the food or the cow or whatever the crop is by itself and you do an evaluation of that. Forget about how it was produced. If there’s a problem in the product, it’s a problem. If there’s no problem in the product, there’s no problem. The thing is, when you know what can go wrong with gene editing, you realize it can create massive collateral damage in the DNA. You can shatter the chromosome and cause random rearrangements. You can cause big deletions and additions, non-target cuts. You can have DNA, random DNA from bacteria or other animals in the Petri dish, stuffed in and combined with the DNA of the organism you’re creating. All of that can happen. You can have—even in the process of cloning that cell into a plant-massive, widespread collateral damage, hundreds or thousands of mutations up and down the DNA. But if you think, “Oh, this is an onion, and we just look at these things with onions,” or “This is a potato, and this is how we evaluate a potato,” you will not be paying any attention to these other things that could be deadly.
And so the product assessment is a way of putting blinders on, pretending that we don’t know what could go wrong, and the perfect example is the hornless cow. Certain cattle have big horns, and if you put them in confinements they can hurt each other. So rather than cutting off the horn, genetic engineers used gene editing to block a gene that produces the horns, so they created hornless cattle. Some of you have heard me speak about it because this was the poster child of the biotech industry. When they published their study, there was an accompanying article or letter saying “This shows that there was no non-targeted effects when gene editing animals; therefore, there’s no need for regulations by the government. If we want to introduce gene edited animals, this proves no side effects.” Well, a couple of years later, someone from the FDA had a software system.
I think she wanted to test to see if it does the proper sequencing and gives the right information. She said, “I have all this genomic information from these hornless cattle, which are obviously a perfect gene edit ‘cause everyone says so—published in a peer reviewed journal. Let’s just take this information and stick it into the software program,” and what! …there’s a problem. It wasn’t a perfect gene edit. When they stuck the gene editing equipment into the cell of the cattle, it has a little scissors; it has a little guide that finds where in the DNA the scissors cut. But it was stuck into the cow’s cell, the little circular DNA called a plasmid. There was a bunch of bacteria in there with antibiotic resistant genes. (There’s a reason why it’s there—it doesn’t matter.)
When gene edited scissors cuts the DNA, what happens is at that point the scientist has no control. It’s the cell’s own repair mechanism that puts them together. Now, there can be disasters in the putting together. There can be mutations. There can be flipped things. There can be deletions and additions. But one thing that it seems to do is it grabs whatever material in the vicinity, saying, “This is a floating piece of DNA. This probably fits in there,” and stuffs it in there like spackle. It grabbed the bacteria genes that were part of that plasma and stuck it into the cow DNA. So you have cow DNA-and-cow DNA, and bacterial DNA-and-cow DNA, and that got cloned into every cell of these cattle and those cattle were being bred in Brazil to become new hornless cattle herds. The FDA scientist inadvertently, accidentally, happenstance, serendipitously found out that every cell of these cows’ bodies had genes that produced antibiotic resistant proteins.
What this means is that if those genes transferred into pathogens in the cow’s stomach, anywhere near the cow, they could create antibiotic resistant diseases—already responsible for tens of thousands of deaths each year and, otherwise unnecessary amputations. In other words, these cows could be accidentally killing people. Now there’s mice that have had retroviruses from cows stuck into their DNA because the serum used in the Petri dish can come from cows or goats, and so sometimes bovine and sometimes goat DNA get stuck in. Those are just some of the things that can happen as a result of the process.
Coming back to this very unfortunate article written by some very well-known organizations, they’re saying we should just do a product evaluation. If they did a product evaluation of the cows they would pass, and these potentially deadly cows would be part of the global population of cows, possibly dominating cows in the future, and no one would be the wiser to their potential dangers.
No one would be the wiser to the mushroom that might be creating toxicity, disease, allergic reactions. So both of those things—the tiered approach to regulation and the product instead of the process approach—whenever you hear that, run the other way. Or better yet, come with wisdom and say, “You know, every GMO is potentially dangerous. Every GMO has side effects that we are not able to predict in advance.” We now have the tools to evaluate what damage may have occurred in the DNA, what changes have occurred in the RNA, what differences in proteins may have been produced, what metabolites are out there that are different from the natural counterpart. These are cheap now. These are easy. They’re called omics: the microbiome, the omics, the proteomics, the metabolome, the transcriptome, the genome.
These are the omics studies that independent scientists are saying we should be using those so we really can tell the difference between a genetically modified organism—whether gene edited or through other reasons—and its natural counterpart. Everything should go through that. Everything before it gets put on the market needs animal feeding studies at this point, because they’ve proven that if you do compositional tests and omics tests, you still might miss something that can kill a rat or a mouse that can kill a human and just looking at the numbers is not going to protect us. So unfortunately animal feeding studies at this point may be a necessary step to protect humans who eat the products. According to independent scientists who’ve looked at approvals that were done without animal studies, it showed that they made assumptions of safety that can never be verified, so we’re all being the Guinea pigs in the experiment. All of that was missed by these nonprofit organizations. They also said that the product to developers should consider influence-you know, input from societal stakeholders—on how gene editing could be applied to support a broad range of benefits. That is really a weird sentence.
See, if you start off by saying, “How can gene editing fix this problem or this problem or this problem?” you’ve already lost. If you start out by saying,”Here are the problems; what are the best ways to approach it?”… So these guys are already down the biotech rabbit hole. The example we gave recently in an interview with some Asian directors of some nonprofits was about golden rice. I was talking to a woman who was the director of a group in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, they’ve been able to counter vitamin D deficiency by teaching, by bringing gardening and gardens and seeds to vast numbers of people so that they get a complete and balanced diet, not just vitamin D, which is what is found in golden rice, but a whole range. But if you were to narrow and say, “How can we use gene editing to increase vitamin D?” you’re eliminating, actually, very valid and proven ways to solve that problem.
It’s sort of like coming along and saying, “Gene editing has fantastic benefits. We need to figure out how to make those available to society.” Whoa, gene editing is very new, very dangerous, and prone to side effects. You genetically engineer something with gene editing, you release it into the environment—it can become a permanent part of the gene pool, and there’s no recall. Once you create the first generation in the lab, the next generation may have changes that you didn’t predict or anticipate, and now it’s too late, because now it’s part of the world, especially, with microbes. It’ll travel around the world and meet sometimes very, very quickly. We didn’t need a pandemic to know that. They can mutate. They can swap genes with other species. The gene that you put in for this particular use in this particular field or application is now in ecosystems around the world possibly wreaking havoc, and inside the ecosystem called the gut microbiome, possibly wreaking havoc for our health.
Rather than assuming that gene editing is the best thing since sliced bread, it’s important to step back and say, “Are we buying the assumptions of the biotech industry that stands to make a lot of money if we push this forward as the solution to all these things? And then they also say that about GMOs: “We want inclusive access to gene editing technologies and resources that can help drive societal benefits.” This is sort of putting it on a pedestal, saying, “It’s important. We should all have access to it.” First of all Corteva, which is the combination of Dow and DuPont, they own most of the patents associated with gene editing for agricultural and food use, so good luck on making it easy access. But again, it’s creating the wrong impression.
And again, it’s giving the world the sense that this is a technology we can all benefit from. We need to have access to it. We need to create all sorts of things. Right now you can buy a gene editing kit on Amazon for $169. For $1,000 to $2,000 you can build your own kits, your own laboratories at home, and for the price of dinner each day, you can grab and buy material in a catalog and genetically engineer microbes and release them into the environment, which could alter and damage the microbiome forever. You assume all the high school classes and biology classes and government labs and all these labs will be churning out all sorts of gene edited GMOs, so it is going to have enormous access. But what that means is everything with DNA that’s being targeted, could be ultimately replaced with a corrupted gene pool full of all those changes that we talked about, the off target effects, the massive collateral damage.
And now we have little genetic time bombs released into the environment. Is it so bad? Could be. Go to protectnaturenow.com and take a look at Don’t Let the Gene Out of the Bottle. A single genetically engineered microbe could theoretically have ended terrestrial plant life, had it been released two weeks later. They discovered a problem two weeks before it was supposed to be released. I know that could have altered weather patterns. It was supposed to be released. It was stopped by a court order. Yes, there are things that could be that bad. We don’t know. And the document—this terrible, terrible document in Nature Biotechnology—gives a framework for a disaster. If this as it stands, goes through and it’s adopted, it’s handing the keys to the kingdom, to the kingdoms, to nature’s kingdoms, to the biotech industry, who we know has captured regulatory agencies.
We know that. We don’t have to pretend that the FDA and the EPA and the USDA are independent. Is no one paying attention to The Monsanto Papers? Is no one paying attention to the fact that Michael Taylor, Monsanto’s former attorney, overruled the scientists and the science to create a “We don’t care, we don’t need to look policy” at the FDA? And then [he] became a well-paid Monsanto vice-president, and then went back to the FDA as the US Foods Czar. We know that these are captured organizations, so don’t give them the ability to say,”Oh, this is low risk. We’re not going to pay attention to the process. We’re just going to treat a potato like a potato.” Well, I’ll tell you, if you treat a potato like a potato, the person that created the genetically engineered potato, he worked first for Monsanto, then for Simplot, and for Simplot, he created the potato that doesn’t turn brown when sliced. It’s being used all over. After he retired, he looked at what he had done. He wrote an article, “Pandora’s Potatoes: The Worst GMO.” Page after page, after page, he described how his creation could cause sickness, disease, possibly death.
If it were treated as a process and it was treated appropriately and carefully, it would never have been released. If it’s treated in the way that this paper by these organizations asked for, it would have been released, and it’s already on the market.
I told you at the beginning I would tell you a little bit about my experience with the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Let me see if I can reach anyone that’s asking me any questions. We’re about to hear me speak a little bit about… okay, if anyone has any comments or questions I can now read them online. But I want to tell you about the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Gregory Jaffe is the Director of their Biotech Division.
I remember him showing up at an EPA hearing, and I was testifying, and he was testifying. I was like, “Who is this guy? He’s totally missing the point. He has no knowledge of the health dangers, no knowledge of the environmental dangers. He’s just asking for some gentle improvement in the regulations, and he’s taking everything at face value of the biotech industry. I didn’t realize that he was quietly working on their behalf with the guise of being an independent non-profit that’s supposedly highly respected by the media in Washington, DC, quoted often. Well, he saw some companies labeling their products as non-GMO 20 years ago, and filed a complaint with the FDA, that did an investigation saying companies shouldn’t declare products as non-GMO. Why would he do that? Why would he do that? Because that was what the biotech industry wanted. No one to declare “non-GMO,” so they didn’t have to have that economic disadvantage of selling GMOs.
He had written an article about genetically engineered animals in which he praised the genetically engineered salmon…and then was selected by the FDA to be the Citizens Representative on the committee that evaluated AquaBounty’s salmon. He wasn’t representing consumers; he was a plant by the industry. Can I say, “He worked for Monsanto in the past?” No, but he was working on behalf of their interest. If you look at this organization, you can see that they are basically one of the organizations that echo the talking points of the biotech industry year after year after year, so they happen to be one of the authors. I don’t know who was the author of this particular article, whether it was them that created it and got everyone to sign off. I don’t understand the details, and I’m not going to try and implicate any of these organizations in consciously messing it up, but I don’t have any confidence in the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
I’ve seen their posts, and they’re as if consciously devoid of any understanding of the dangers of GMOs, any side effects whatsoever. Either they know about it and they’re consciously lying…I’ll let David Suzuki say it: “If someone says there are no risks or dangers from GMO foods, they’re either very stupid or lying.” We’ll leave it at David Suzuki. All right, let’s see if there are any questions or comments. If there is they haven’t come through yet. I’m going to leave it there. Actually, I want to give one more comment here.
It is really important that we are aware of how dangerous gene editing can be and that we need to dictate policy based on real science to the regulatory agencies and not let these Monsanto talking points stand. I want to thank my friends at GMWatch. They wrote a beautiful article about analyzing this. I took a lot of what I said from them. I know all this stuff, but they organized it very well, thank you, Claire. And I want to say that this is really an existential threat. If gene editing—especially if microbes become commonplace, and we introduce a million new gene edited microbes in this generation, tens of thousands of other types of organisms with gene edited DNA—we’re replacing nature with a technology whose number one most common result is surprise side effects. We need extremely tight regulation now that gene editing is so commonplace, so cheap, and so easy.
If you’re a member of all these organizations and you’re looking for them to represent you for biotech interests, you may not want to be looking to them for that purpose. You may want to tell them to watch this, to read the beautiful comments by GMWatch, and to publicly distance themselves from their article that they authored, and say, “We were wrong. We no longer call for a tiered assessment. We no longer call for product based. We demand labeling, and we withdraw the article, the statements about all the positive aspects, and of gene editing, and giving the impression to the world that this is something we endorse as a technology in its current form.” If they do that, that would be great. They would have my vote. If you have any contact with these folks, if you’re supporters of them, maybe they’ll listen to you.
Anyway, I’m Jeffrey Smith from the Institute for Responsible Technology. Joyce, yes, it’s like trusting the Cornell Alliance for Science, one of the front groups for Monsanto and company, supported by Bill Gates. All right, everyone. Thank you all, and I’ll catch you next time.