Gambling with Our Genetic Future: GMOs and the World Food Supply

This interview with Jeffrey Smith appears in the June 2012 issue of Pathways, a Washington, DC, community quarterly. The web version here includes a list of references at the end which is not included in the print version.

Jeffrey M. Smith is a consumer advocate who has written extensively about genetically modified organisms (GMOs). As executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology, he advocates against their inclusion in the food supply.

In this interview with Dr. Daniel Redwood, Smith describes the scientific studies that raise red flags about the safety of GMOs; several European nations’ current bans on GMOs in foods and how their regulatory processes differ from the United States; the British scandal in which veteran scientist Arpad Pusztai’s work was suppressed until revealed by a Parliamentary inquiry; court documents revealing that FDA scientists were overruled by a political appointee to allow the first introduction of GMOs into the U.S. food supply in the 1990s; and the revolving door that has allowed a top Monsanto official to rotate back and forth multiple times between corporate and regulatory positions of power in the U.S. federal government.

Smith also explains that as a non-scientist writer and advocate, he follows a policy of having his writing reviewed for accuracy by at least three scientists prior to publication.

Smith’s first book was Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies about the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating. His second, the comprehensively documented Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, covers research linking GMOs to a wide variety of health risks in humans and animals. In his foreword to Genetic Roulette, former UK Environment Minister Michael Meacher writes, “This is a brilliant book which combines shrewd dissection of the true nature of GM technology, a devastating critique of the health and environmental hazards of GM crops, and scarifying examples of the manipulation of both science and the media by the biotech industry.”

Jeffrey Smith has lectured in 30 countries and has been quoted in The New York Times, Washington Post, BBC World Service, Nature, The Independent, Daily Telegraph, New Scientist, The Times (London), Associated Press, Reuters News Service, LA Times, Time Magazine and Genetic Engineering News. His radio and TV appearances have included BBC, NPR, Fox News, Democracy Now and the Dr. Oz Show. He writes an internationally syndicated column, Spilling the Beans, and has a regular blog on The Huffington Post.

Pulitzer Prize winning ecological poet and essayist Gary Snyder was once asked what he feared most. This was a broad question—his answer could have been Alzheimer’s, starvation, fascism or anything else. His answer was, “Contamination of the gene pool.” You’ve devoted your life to this issue. To begin at the beginning, what is a genetically modified organism and how do these GMOs become part of the food supply?

GMOs are organisms—plant, animal, etc.—where genes from the DNA of one species are forced into the DNA of other species. In our food supply, foods like soybeans and corn have been genetically engineered with bacteria genes, allowing the crop to withstand doses of herbicide, or in the case of corn, to also produce their own toxic pesticide.

They were introduced into our food supply through deception and manipulation. The person in charge of policy at the FDA was Michael Taylor, the former attorney to biotech giant Monsanto, who claimed in the policy of the FDA that the agency was not aware of information showing that these foods were significantly different. Therefore, companies like Monsanto, who had previously told us that PCBs, Agent Orange and DDT were safe, were able to determine whether their GMOs were safe–no safety studies were required. They can introduce a new GMO without having to tell the FDA or consumers.

But documents made public from a lawsuit, Alliance for Biointegrity v. Shalala, revealed that the policy at the FDA was based on a lie. In fact, the overwhelming consensus among the FDA’s own scientists was that genetically modified foods were not only different but dangerous and could create hard-to-detect allergens, toxins, new diseases and nutritional problems. They had urged their superiors to require testing but were ignored.

Michael Taylor then went on to become Monsanto’s Vice President and chief lobbyist.  He is now back at the FDA as the U.S. food safety czar.

Supplements, Especially Those for Bodybuilding and Weight Loss, Linked to Liver Disease

Today’s MedPage includes a report on a study linking supplement use to liver damage.

A few comments…

I find it revealing that the study’s authors report a long list of drug company conflicts of interest and that “supplements” are to a large extent lumped into one overall category, which has the effect of creating a generalized anti-supplement narrative.

That said, the fact that bodybuilding and weight loss supplements seem to be the main culprits appears to be an important finding.

It would be most helpful to find out exactly which supplements we’re talking about. But all we’ve got at this point is an abstract from a poster presentation at a digestive diseases conference.

I will be interested to see if this results in a flurry of anti-supplement stories in major media in the coming days, despite the lack of publicly available data to analyze the findings and respond to the clearly anti-supplement narrative.

If certain supplements are dangerous, that’s definitely worth publicizing. But to tar all supplements with the same brush is disingenuous at best.

Congressional Committee Calls Chiropractic “Key Benefit” Within DoD Health Care System, Urges Pay Equity System

Over the past decade and a half, chiropractic has increasingly become an integral part of the health care systems serving America’s active duty military and its veterans. DCs now work at 45 VA hospitals and outpatient facilities as well as 60 Department of Defense treatment centers.

This news release from the American Chiropractic Association just arrived:

Congressional Committee Calls Chiropractic “Key Benefit” Within DoD Health Care System, Urges Pay Equity System      

Arlington, Va.- Members of the House Armed Services Committee have approved the inclusion of a strong, pro-chiropractic directive in their official committee report accompanying the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. The committee language asserts that services provided by doctors of chiropractic (DCs) for our nation’s men and women in uniform is of “high quality” and has become a “key” benefit within the military health care system. Read relevant pages from the committee report here.

According to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) and Association of Chiropractic Colleges (ACC), the language is significant for several reasons. “What we have here–and this is very important–is an official statement from one of the House’s oversight committees with authority over the Pentagon that directly links the services of DCs to the treatment of conditions experienced as a result of combat operations. This is a huge validation that chiropractic services are of significant, direct value to a combat fighting force,” said ACA President Keith Overland, DC.

Equally significant, the thrust of the language is aimed at ensuring that DCs within the military achieve “pay equality” and appropriate “job classifications” that are on par with other health care providers with similar training, education and scopes of practice. Regarding that language, Dr. Overland noted, “Our advocacy efforts have not only been aimed at getting DCs into federal health care programs such as the DoD’s, and expanding their presence there, but they also have been aimed at ensuring that DCs are provided with appropriate status, authority, salaries and other benefits equal to those enjoyed by comparable-level providers. This is a major step forward in this advocacy process. It demonstrates that Congress is not just interested in simple DC inclusion, but inclusion in the right way which fully recognizes the status, training and professional capabilities of a DC. Part of the ACA’s mission is to level the playing field down to every last detail.”

Inclusion of the language follows a bi-partisan letter sent last year to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, signed by 15 members of the House Armed Services Committee, requesting the Department of Defense take action to correct the wage rate disparity experienced by doctors of chiropractic within the DoD. Full congressional action on the Defense Authorization bill that includes the House committee language has not yet taken place, but enactment is expected later this year, according to ACA officials, and will be a positive indicator that Congress continues to support a robust chiropractic program within the Department of Defense.

“The Association of Chiropractic Colleges is gratified that the extensive education and training that doctors of chiropractic receive has been recognized and that appropriate compensation is vital,” said ACC President Dr. Richard Brassard. Dr. Overland added, “I want to thank House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, Ranking Member Adam Smith and especially Congressmen Mike Rogers of Alabama and Dave Loebsack of Iowa for moving this issue forward.”

For further information on chiropractic inclusion in the military, or to learn more about ACA’s ongoing legislative efforts, go to ACA’s Advocacy webpage at www.ACAToday.org

 

Food Lobby Dominates Policy Making, Follows Trail Blazed By Tobacco Industry

Since joining the Association for Healthcare Journalists recently, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of investigative reporting and analysis more than ever.

Here’s a recent post on the AHCJ website highlighting the scope of Big Food’s toxic influence on health policy.

 

After aggressive lobbying, Congress declared pizza a vegetable to protect it from a nutritional overhaul of the school lunch program this year. The White House kept silent last year as Congress killed a plan by four federal agencies to reduce sugar, salt and fat in food marketed to children. 

And during the past two years, each of the 24 states and five cities that considered “soda taxes” to discourage consumption of sugary drinks has seen the efforts dropped or defeated.

At every level of government, the food and beverage industries won fight after fight during the last decade. They have never lost a significant political battle in the United States despite mounting scientific evidence of the role of unhealthy food and children’s marketing in obesity

That success has come through what the authors imply is a sort of big-tobacco model, in which the industry combines promises of self-regulation with huge amounts of money, and thus creates an irresistible package for lawmakers. For a blow-by-blow on how the lobbying muscle swayed the decision-makers in recent battles, I strongly recommend you read the full piece, which draws heavily from both data and extensive interviews. Particularly interesting? The examples of how the Citizens United decision has impacted far more than just election politics.

Learning What Your Genome Contains

From today’s Wall Street Journal health blog, here’s the story of a Stanford professor who used information from his genome to change his diet and exercise patterns to bring his blood sugar levels back to normal. It appears to illustrate the upside of genetic testing.

Snyder, who is 56, two years ago decided to see what genetics might tell him about his own health. He’s not alone, as the cost of mapping a person’s full genetic profile has been dropping quickly, as WSJ reports, raising questions about how best to use the information. Colleagues sequenced Snyder’s whole genome, which revealed a number of potential health issues.

He learned he has an elevated risk for heart disease, not unexpected since “everyone on my father’s side died of heart failure,” he says. Surprisingly, he also discovered he is at higher risk for Type 2 diabetes. “For me, that came out of nowhere,” he says.

Snyder is physically active and isn’t overweight. And, at the time of the genome test, his glucose level was normal. But the level began rising gradually over the next few months. Finally, at a physical, the doctor told him the latest tests showed, “You are diabetic.”

He ramped up his bike riding and added running to his regimen. He cut out most sweets. “It took six months, but my glucose came back to normal,” he says. His doctor now calls him a “managed diabetic,” says Snyder, who has so far avoided needing medication.

Snyder is one of the drivers behind a Stanford study of faculty members in the genetics department who were offered the chance to get their genome sequenced and interpreted. Participants will be followed for more than a year to see how they use the information to manage their health, how they react to unexpected findings and other issues.

A downside of having your genome analyzed is that, legally or illegally, risk factors could potentially be used against you by employers or insurers. Federal law has some protections in place against such abuses, but we are at such an early stage in the application of this technology that the future is very much uncharted territory.

An interesting sidelight of this doctor’s story, not fully addressed in this article, is the fact that his diabetes first emerged very shortly after he was told that he had a genetic predisposition to that disease.

Certainly that could be a coincidence and there’s no overt indication to the contrary. But what an odd coincidence!

 

Lack of Sleep May Increase Diabetes Risk

Night shift workers are among those most affected.

From MedPage:

Your mother was right: regular bedtimes and a good night’s sleep are good for you — or at least, researchers reported, irregular bedtimes and not enough sleep are bad for you.

In a 39-day experiment with healthy volunteers, shortened sleep time and varying bedtimes — meant to mimic shift work — led to impaired glucose regulation and metabolism, according to Orfeu Buxton, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and colleagues.

Over time, the observed changes could increase the risk of obesity and diabetes, Buxton and colleagues reported online in Science Translational Medicine.

The findings support epidemiological studies linking disrupted sleep with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes, the researchers noted — especially in workers on the night shift.

Doctors Urge Their Colleagues to Quit Doing Worthless Tests

This is a very difficult policy to implement as long as doctors and hospitals continue to be paid more when they perform more procedures. Radiology departments are major profit centers for hospitals and other health care facilities.

To see major medical groups such as the American Board of Internal Medicine endorse this policy is heartening. I would add that my profession, chiropractic, has made major changes along these lines within our educational institutions over the last decade. Student interns cannot routinely x-ray patients; for imaging studies to be approved, specific guidelines (such as the Canadian Cervical Spine Rule) must be followed.

Nine national medical groups are launching a campaign called Choosing Wisely to get U.S. doctors to back off on 45 diagnostic tests, procedures and treatments that often may do patients no good.

Many involve imaging tests such as CT scans, MRIs and X-rays. Stop doing them, the groups say, for most cases of back pain, or on patients who come into the emergency room with a headache or after a fainting spell, or just because somebody’s about to undergo surgery.

The Choosing Wisely project was launched last year by the foundation of the American Board of Internal Medicine. It recruited nine medical specialty societies representing more than 376,000 physicians to come up with five common tests or procedures “whose necessity … should be questioned and discussed.”

The groups represent family physicians, cardiologists, radiologists, gastroenterologists, oncologists, kidney specialists and specialists in allergy, asthma and immunology and nuclear cardiology.

Eight more specialty groups will join the campaign this fall, representing hospice doctors, head and neck specialists, arthritis doctors, geriatricians, pathologists, hospital practitioners, nuclear medicine specialist and those who perform a heart test called echocardiography.

Consumer groups are involved, too. Led by Consumer Reports, they include the AARP, National Business Coalition on Health, the Wikipedia community and eight others.

The effort represents a growing sense that there’s a lot of waste in U.S. health care, and that many tests and treatments are not only unnecessary but harmful.

Harvard economist David Cutler estimates that a third of what this country spends on health care could safely be dispensed with.

h/t Stephen Perle

When the Supposedly Safer Alternative Appears to be More Dangerous

This is a fascinating and meaningful research project by my friend, Sarina Farb.

Though only a high school senior, she is pursuing a line of research that has the potential to prevent a great deal of illness and suffering from these apparently dangerous environmental chemicals (BPA and BPS) to which we are all exposed.

Farb noticed that the Lawrence Public Library and The Merc promote BPA-free receipts, as BPA is used in the ink and found on the surface of receipts. Studies have suggested that the BPA found on receipts is absorbed into the body when handled.

So instead, the receipts at The Merc and the library contain BPS, or bisphenol S, which is similar to BPA. However, very few studies have examined whether BPS is any safer than BPA. So Farb set off to find out.

Farb talked her way into a lab at Kansas University, and with the assistance of Kristi Neufeld, a molecular biology professor, obtained some lab space and the necessary testing supplies.

Farb spent “hundreds of hours” over the past year testing whether BPA and BPS cause an increase in the growth of breast cancer cells.

The results?

“BPS is worse,” said Farb, as her results showed that BPS caused more growth in the breast cancer cells than BPA.

My Full Interview with Harriet Washington Now Available in PDF

A PDF version of my Harriet Washington Interview with Harriet Washington is now available. This was previously posted in four parts. Her book, Deadly Monopolies, is a powerful and thorough indictment of corporate greed and overreach, particularly as this affects our health, well-being and personal autonomy.

Thanks to my wife Beth Lily Redwood for the graphic design.

 

Serving Size Scams Exploit Loophole in FDA Nutrition Labeling Rules

The Food and Drug Administration has helpful policies in place to help consumers understand the nutrient and calorie content of various packaged foods. Sure enough, the companies selling the packaged foods find ways to fool the public.

This Men’s Health article has numerous examples, including these two:

Serving Size Rip-Off: Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts

Listed calories: 200
Servings per box: 2
Total calories: 400

What’s worse than eating 200 calories of enriched flour stuffed with sugary fruit goo? Eating twice that many calories without even realizing it. The nutritional information on a box of Pop-Tarts lists one tart as a serving, but these iconic morning pastries come wrapped in twos, forcing you to decide between eating two Pop-Tarts now or one stale Pop-Tart tomorrow. Here’s a smarter option: Drop a piece of whole-wheat bread into your toaster, and then spread it with strawberry jam and be on your way. You’ll take in fewer calories with more fiber and real fruit.

20 Habits That Make You Fat

Serving Size Rip-Off: Campbell’s Chunky Microwaveable Soup

Listed calories: 200
Servings per container: 2
Total calories: 400

 

Okay, clearly this is a single-serve cup. As if you’d ever microwave the cup, eat half, and then put the rest in the fridge to microwave another day. C’mon Campbell’s, you’re better than that.