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Jeffrey Smith Visits Ecuador to Talk About GMOs

Jeffrey Smith, Director of the Institute for Responsible Technology and author of the film “Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of our Lives”, recently traveled to Ecuador to meet with different government officials and activist groups about the risks of GMOs. Stephen Sherwood, a Groundswell co-founder and Board member who lives in Ecuador, met with Jeffrey while he was touring the country and shares some insights from Jeffrey’s visit in the blog post below. Stephen works with our Ecuadorian partner EkoRural and the Colectivo Agroecológico on the “250,000 families!” campaign, a five-year project to recruit a critical mass of 5% of Ecuador’s population to publicly commit to responsible consumption.

Provided the impossibility of scientifically proving the health consequences of GMOs until human subjects are exposed to them for a generation (30 years), up until now the focus of my criticisms has been that it is problematic to be able to patent life and to place a common pool resource in the hands of private interests (or in the hands of governments, for that matter). Nevertheless, hundreds of millions of Americans (and others) have been exposed to GMOs for 20 years, and, as Jeffrey Smith points out, a number of worrisome health effects are emerging. The problem is that once we go down the road of replacing our germplasm and organizing food around GMO technology, we essentially cannot turn back. The GMO industry knows this, and it is not waiting for scientifically proven studies on GMO safety before acting.

At the end of May, I sat in three hours of presentation and discussion with Jeffrey Smith and about 100 leaders from Ecuador’s pro-food movements, including a few medical doctors, biochemists, and plant scientists. Jeffrey has been looking at GMOs for over twenty years. He does not pretend to be a scientist (nor is he anti-biotechnology, for that matter), but he knows more about GMOs than any scientist I’ve ever met. He is commonly invited by the American medical establishment to talk about GMO health effects, and his book, Genetic Roulette, is mandatory reading at multiple medical schools. He identified the glyphosate concerns a decade before they were publishable in the Lancet.[1]

Jeff presented research not just on glyphosate, but rather glyphosate combined with Roundup Ready maize as well as on diseases associated with other GMO technology. According to the data reported by Jeffrey, the combination is worse than just glyphosate or GMO-maize and -soy alone. As you probably know, Roundup is Monsanto’s flagship pesticide — its most broadly used and scientifically proven ‘safe’ pesticide on the market. In the US alone, farmers apply about 100 thousand tons each year. As a result of the Lancet findings, Roundup is on the cutting block. In March 2015, the WHO declared Roundup as “probably carcinogenic to humans”, and countries such as the Netherlands have eliminated it for household use, and Colombia just eliminated it as part of its coca eradication program.

The other highly popular and proven ’safe’ GMO product is the insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt. While I am quite familiar with Bt (and we regularly use the spray form on our farm), I was not aware of the more recent research on its human health effects. The studies by independent scientists, such as Aprad Pusztai and Gilles-Eric Seralini, are beginning to show that Bt is biological active, leading to increasingly conclusive evidence that regular consumption of Bt causes intestinal leaking (‘leaky-gut syndrome’), which is tied to a rise of anti-bodies around the gut and in turn associated with all kinds of chronic diseases, such as food intolerances, prostrate problems (including cancer), nutritional deficiencies. The industry has been active to discredit those studies, but independent reviewers have shown that their methods are at least as rigorous as those of the industry.[2]

Jeffrey focuses on health, but his central argument is about ‘responsibility’: scientists don’t know what they are doing (he presents a dozen scientists who from universities, industry and government who make that point for him), the technology is strongly correlated to a dozen worrisome chronic health effects, and the consequences of this technology are both unknowable and uncontrollable (no serious scientist could argue against that). Nevertheless, as argued by one Monsanto consultant, “The goal of the industry is nothing short of 100% GE food,” and science and government is increasingly at the service of industry. 

In summary, I think that I personally have been too conservative in staying away from the hard-to-prove health arguments around GMOs. I now think that it is not entirely responsible to limit our arguments to the relatively easy agronomic/environmental and social concerns, while GMO foods have been stocking the shelves of our food markets. While we need to keep up the agronomic and social arguments in favor of publicly owned and controlled seeds, we also need to confront the forces that intend to re-shape food around patentable technology with foreseeable health consequences. And, at the end of the day, this is a matter of democracy: the people versus plutocracy — the will of industry driven science and government. As Jeffrey argues, we may be at a tipping point in consumer interest in healthy food, which could be leveraged in favor of agroecology and other social interests of people-centered development. In the absence of responsible science and government, ultimately citizens need to utilize markets as a means of transforming industry, which can only be achieved through consumer preferences for real food. 

For more information about the research shared in this article, please visit:

For more information about the “250,000 families” campaign, please read this article.  

[1] Note that for a group of medical researchers to declare in the Lancet that an environmental contaminate was “possibly carcinogenic to humans” is highly significant. The only way to be more conclusive would be to conduct human trials. 

[2] A summary of the Bt and other GMO health risk literature can be found at the IRT website:


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