The founder of the Fairfield-based Institute for Responsible Technology is urging Iowans to make a New Year’s resolution to avoid eating any foods that contain genetically-modified organisms. Jeffery Smith, author of the book "Genetic Roulette," says a host of studies done on animals and people clearly conclude G-M-laden foods are not good for our health. Smith says "There’s so much evidence out there showing that these foods are not safe, that they should never have been approved and they should not be on our dinner tables, but the FDA is actually charged with promoting the biotech industry so we are faced with having to protect ourselves."
Avoiding food with G-M ingredients is difficult, as Smith says 60-to-70-percent of all foods sold in the U.S. contain them. Still, Smith says it’s possible to avoid what he calls "gene-spliced" foods. Smith says "Even though nine out of ten Americans want genetically-modified foods labeled, the FDA refuses to do so, so we have to read labels on our own. In order to avoid GMOs, we can buy organic, we can buy products that say ‘non-GMO’ or we can avoid those that contain soy and corn derivatives and cotton seed and canola oil. Soy, corn, cotton and canola are the four main genetically-modified crops."
One of the state’s top GMO researchers takes issue with Smith’s claims. Steve Daugherty, director of biotechnology affairs at Des Moines-based Pioneer Hi-Bred International, says there’s absolutely nothing in GMO foods that’s a threat. Daugherty says GMO products go through a "rigorous and robust regulatory system that’s in place here in this country to review those products and to make sure they are as safe as their conventionally-produced counterparts. That gives me a lot of personal confidence in the technology and its products." Daugherty says biotechnology is a boon for farmers and for consumers and he questions the science behind the reports Smith quotes that are so critical of GMOs. Daugherty says "I’m not aware of any credible reports or studies that have shown the products of biotechnology to be anything but as safe as their conventionally-produced counterparts. We have excellent information that is based on sound science and replicable science and there’s no indication the products are anything but safe."
Meanwhile, Smith says "Consumers are being used as human guinea pigs by biotech companies, which rushed their GMOs to market without adequate studies and before the science was ready." It’s often more expensive to buy organic foods but Smith says it won’t necessarily hurt your wallet to avoid G-M products, though it takes a concerted effort at the grocery store. Smith says "More and more brands are specifically avoiding genetically-engineered foods and labeling as such their packaging. So when you go to the store and you want to buy a tomato sauce and pick up a chunky Ragu, it has soybean oil and high-fructose corn syrup, but Light Ragu doesn’t have either. It has olive oil and that won’t necessarily cost you more; it does mean changing the brand choices."
As for the complaints about the FDA and the lack of labeling GMO food products, Daugherty says the U.S. government has very strict policies in place for labeling. Daugherty says "Biotechnology is a process, it’s a tool that is used in the production of food. It is not something that requires labeling under the current law. Indeed, we’ve been safely consuming products of biotechnology in processed foods for ten years and things have gone exceptionally well."
For more on Pioneer’s side, head to "www.pioneer.com" and click on the "Biotechnology" link. Smith recommends the website "www.responsibletechnology.org" for tips on avoiding GMOs at home and in restaurants.