Ask Us Anything About GMOs!

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Q:
If this website's moderators are seeking "experts" to answer questions about the safety of GMO foods, why not consider the input of Doctor Jeffrey Smith? He and colleagues have done extensive research on the effects GMO foods on livestock and humans. His website, http://www.responsibletechnology.org/autism , has gathered an alarming amount of data from first hand sources around the world that indicate GMOs are destroying the gastrointestinal tracts of any living thing who eats them. There is also a chilling amount of truth to the incredible correlations between environmental factors like GMO foods triggering autism. It is a body response to ingesting bioaccumulative toxins over time. There are many parents out there who have reversed many symptoms of autism by switching to a strict organic diet. If GMO products are so worthy of being proud of, why not tell the world? If they are so great and people truly wanted to eat them, why not make that top advertising point on all these products?
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A:Expert Answer

It is good that the questioner recognizes the importance of relying on the testimony of experts when trying to understand complex scientific issues. Jeff Smith is, however, not a doctor or researcher and he has never conducted a scientific study or published a peer-reviewed scientific paper.  Please read his Biography at his website (http://www.responsibletechnology.org/resources/media-kit/jeffrey-m-smith-bio) to confirm this.  He is an energetic, articulate and persuasive layperson who has made himself into one of the leading outspoken opponents of GM crops -- but he is no expert on the science.

Despite the numerous claims made by Mr. Smith about all sorts of adverse effects caused by GM crops, none of these has ever actually occurred in real life.  The scientific facts and evidence undermine Smith's claims.  Many of Smith's claims are reviewed at my website http://academicsreview.org.  David Tribe and I analyzed 65 claims of adverse health effects caused by GM crops made in Smith's self-published book and we found errors in facts, citations which didn’t say what he claimed, incorrect citations, selective use of data in a way that contradicted the study’s conclusions, and faulty reasoning for every one of the claims.  Smith consistently and selectively cites biased sources and fails to cite numerous scientific publications that discredit his claims.  There is a significant global scientific consensus that GM crops are as safe as any other. After 17 years of consumption of GM crops by humans and animals not a single adverse effect has been scientifically proven.  The National Academies of Science of almost every country, the WHO, the FAO, the AMA and nearly every other medical society in the world and a host of scientific and scholarly societies have all concluded that GM crops are the safe as any other and pose no special risks to humans or the environment.  It is also noteworthy that food safety regulatory agencies in the US (FDA), Europe (EFSA), Canada, Australia, Japan, China, and dozens of other countries have reviewed the safety of each new crop and approved them for humans and animals.  Unsubstantiated claims can't change 17 years of safe use and careful regulation. 

Some specific points:

  • Not a shred of evidence exists that any GI system in any animal or human has been adversely affected by GM crops.  
  • The insect-specific toxins that are used in GM plants do not bio-accumulate, they are digested in our guts like any other protein and are not toxic to humans or animals.
  • Correlation between two measured variables does not imply one causes the other.  One could claim for example that the rise of autism correlated with the rise in consumption of organic foods or use of cellphones but that would not suggest a causal relationship.
  • Autism is primarily a genetic disorder and it is a matter of much debate among experts if environmental factors even play a role, and if so, how much of a role they play is unclear.
  • Sadly, autism is not curable and it is rarely completely overcome. Improvement is, however, possible in a few percent of cases.  Some experts believe that autism is often mis-diagnosed and is probably over-diagnosed which may account for some of the claimed cures.
  • It is also believed by many experts that the rate of autism  has probably not changed much over the years and that the apparent increase in frequency is due largely to a greater percentage of children with autism being diagnosed.

It is indeed sad that the questioner believes claims that an organic diet can overcome autism.  It cannot.  These kinds of claims give false hope to parents and families who have autistic children (such as myself—I have two autistic grandchildren).   These claims also probably sell a lot of organic food.  Believe me when I say I wish there was a cure for autism like eating organic but there are no medical studies that support this irresponsible and potentially hurtful claim.  It's a perfect example of the kind of misinformation that Mr. Smith spreads.

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