On Monday, April 7 roughly 400 students, area residents and farmers filled Lecture Center 100 at SUNY New Paltz to hear award-winning documentarian and author Jeffrey Smith outline the dangers presented to our society by Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and Monsanto’s herbicide products such as Roundup and BT Toxin. There was a strong focus on awareness and the steps being taken to remove GMOs from farms, gardens, supermarkets and cupboards. According to Smith, this starts with state-mandated labeling of all products containing GMOs.
Crops discussed include corn, soy, canola and alfalfa.
The two-hour presentation was opened by adjunct professor of biology Michael Boms, who also screened Smith’s film Genetic Roulette — The Gamble Of Our Lives for roughly 200 people on Thursday, April 3.
Taking the podium, Boms wasted no time in addressing the labeling issue. “Over 60 countries have mandatory statutes that call for genetically modified labeling,” naming Russia and China among them while noting the absence of the United States.
In November 2013, the state of Washington’s Initiative 522 proposed labeling requirements for GMO foods and was voted on by residents.
Monsanto, along with other corporations, raised $22 million in support of a “No” vote. Those in favor of labeling raised just shy of $8 million. Initiative 522 was voted down 54.8 % to 45.2 %.
Boms followed the vote closely. “One ad in particular frightened voters when the industry let it be known in no uncertain terms if the proposal passed labeling GM foods, there would be a price increase of $400 per family. In our stagnant economy, voters were squeezed between a rock and a hard place.”
For Boms, who has taught at New Paltz for eleven years and gave his students extra credit to attend the presentation, it is a matter of choice. “When did I give up my right of choice, who chose for me? Why was I not informed when a new untested technology was slipped into my food under the cover of quietness? The underpinnings of democracy are at question here. We cannot have a democracy when we are not allowed the freedom of information. Are we not a democracy?”
Smith runs the Institute for Responsible Technology (ResponsibleTechnology.org), traveling the world, from Iowa to India, both in search of information and to share everything he knows about GMOs, BT toxins and glysophate (the active ingredient of Roundup). He has written two books on this topic, one sharing the same name as the film, and Seeds of Deception. Over the course of his more than 90 minutes on stage, he referenced myriad scientists, studies and research projects while invoking conditions from diabetes, obesity, gluten allergy (Celiac Disease), asthma, autoimmune and heart disease, to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, infertility, autism and cancer. But he led by attacking the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which employs several former Monsanto employees, including Deputy Commissioner Michael Taylor.
“You know why GMOs are on the market? One person. Michael Taylor. He was put in charge of policy at the FDA. While they were creating GMO policy.”
The FDA website describes Taylor as “leading FDA efforts to develop and carry out a prevention-based strategy for food safety, plan for new food safety legislation, ensure that food labels contain clear and accurate information on nutrition.”
Smith made it clear he holds Taylor, Monsanto and the FDA responsible for the rise of GMOs in America. “And the policy that he oversaw said ‘we don’t see any significant difference, no testing necessary, no labeling necessary’. And Monsanto who told us that Agent Orange and DDT and PCBs are safe — they got that wrong, but won’t get this wrong!”
Smith’s books and movie include many anecdotes and testimonials. He was quick to include the audience in his presentation, first welcoming each demographic in groupings of students, gardeners, people concerned by GMOs and farmers, asking for an applause for the farmers in attendance, telling them jokingly “you are now covered by the endangered species act.”
He quizzed the audience on their “vigilance in avoiding GMOs,” and asked for examples of diminished symptoms after sufferers decreased their consumption of GMOs. The first response was Celiac Disease.
Smith mentioned Glutenandgmos.com, and shared two anecdotal examples of removing GMOs from diets resulting in the gluten allergy going away.
Additional symptoms mentioned by the audience that improved with non-GMO diets included Attention Deficit Disorder, autism, colitis and gastrointestinal disorders. Smith offered another account from his travels. “I went to a doctor’s office and interviewed the patients that had been taken off of GMOs and one was 25 days on a non-GMO diet. And three days into it, her Crohn’s disease symptoms went away after 30 years.”
Smith, whose columns on this topic have appeared frequently in the Huffington Post, also discussed the effect of GMOs on animals as part of what he called the “death, disease, destruction, despair” portion of his talk. He noted severe gastrointestinal conditions for livestock which feed on GMO corn from Iowa to Denmark. He said the symptoms stopped once the farmers switched back to non-GMO feed.
He also discussed a village in India, Andhra Pradesh. “They allowed 13 of their buffalo to graze on BT cotton plants for a single day. Within three days, all 13 were dead. The same buffalo had been allowed to graze on nonBT cotton for up to eight years.”
At the close of his discussion, Smith pointed to a consumer-driven “tipping point in this year or next” that starts with GM food being labeled, which in turn will lead to consumer demand for non-GMO products, resulting in more cost-effective products that do not contain genetically modified ingredients. He mentioned the NONGMO project (nongmoproject.org), a third party verifier and referenced Whole Foods president A.C. Gallo, who stated in 2013 that products baring a “Non-GMO” label have increased sales of 15% to 30%. For Smith, this is important. “If sales go up, everyone else in the food industry realizes, ‘I cant afford to be second by product category to declare NON-GMO. I will lose market share’.”
Beth Dulay of Hudson Valley for No GMOs (hvnogmos.org) made a statement after Smith’s presentation. She stressed the importance of a bill that could go up for vote in June on labeling GMO foods. “We are going to have phone numbers of all your legislators…. So you can call them on a regular basis.”
Smith’s presentation was preceded by a Healthy Living Fair sponsored by NYPIRG, Hudson Valley for NO GMOs among others. The event showcased area farms and organizations that promote non-GMO foods and a healthy lifestyle, along with live music by Joakim and Chris. Local organic and non-GMO noodle shop Gomen Kudasai offered countless examples of its fare to a perpetual line of eager eaters.