Seeds of Deception - book review

by GRAIN | 17 Jul 2004

reviewed by GRAIN

Seeds of Deception: Exposing corporate and government lies about the safety of genetically engineered food by Jeffrey Smith, Green Books, UK, 256 pp.

We are told that eating genetically modified (GM) food is safe. Even amongst organisations and individuals campaigning against the planting of GM crops, there is little talk about the health implications of eating GM food because in these early years of GM releases, there has been little evidence that campaigners could call on (no coincidence). And yet, if it became clear that GM food does pose a danger to human health, that would be the end of it. Why is there so little information about the health implications of eating GM crops? Because there are no problems? Because the evidence is being sat on? Because no one has bothered to look?

Jeffrey Smith answers these questions and many more in his new book, Seeds of Deception. This book is easy to read, flowing effortlessly through seemingly well researched stories. It isn't sensationalist: it doesn't need to be. Although some of the stories about animals choosing not to eat GM products appear a little implausible, overall the evidence holds together very well. The main focus of the book is the US. But for our many Seedling readers this will be an important reference as it is the same US endorsement of GM products that is being used for the continuing planting of GM crops around the world.

At the heart of the book lie several recurring themes:

•   The US Food and Drug Admin-istration (FDA), the agency which controls the release of GM crops, is fraudulent and weak.

•   Biotech corporations interfere in the regulatory process and use corruption to meet their aims.

•   There is strong scientific evidence to show that GM can be dangerous.

The first chapter Suppressing the evidence, is the remarkable and well known story about Arpad Pusztai and his GM potatoes. After discovering a link between GM potatoes and a damaged immune system in rats in 1998, Pusztai was forced to retire by his institution, and his findings were suppressed. What is so frightening about this story is the obvious political interference both from high level politicians and ‘eminent' scientists. Smith also tries to explain just why such institutions and individuals are so quick to condemn evidence like Pusztai's. The answers all point to money and the struggles scientists face in attempting to do unbiased research.

The second chapter asks “ What could go wrong? ” Although this chapter is scientifically accurate it is also easy to read and understand. Smith describes a number of aspects of GM technology which clearly show that GM food is potentially very dangerous. GM technology is a clumsy process and based on the false premise that one gene generates one unique protein (see p11). Now that we know there are under a third of the number of genes that there should be for this to be true, we havee been forced to recognise that one gene makes a variable number of proteins, sometimes several thousand. So inserting a gene may also lead to the creation of other foreign proteins, which will have many possible consequences. Smith discusses in details the role of spliceosomes, add-on molecules, chaperone proteins, insertion carcinogenesis, horizontal gene transfer, antibiotic resistance, where the gene is exactly located, gene silencing, environmental influences (which turn genes on and off), the use of promoters (forcing a gene to stay on all the time), sleeping viruses, and many other phenomena.

Smith examines the use of the recombinant (GM) bovine growth hormone (rBGH) which can increase milk production by up to 15%. The evaluation of rBGH by the FDA was a farce and rBGH was approved for commercial release in 1994. It is only after ten years of unofficial ‘testing' on the public that the real health impact of rBGH is starting to leak out, and it looks like Monsanto (which has already cut production dramatically) may drop rBGH production altogether.

What is striking in this chapter is industry's heavy influence on the FDA (and also Health Canada - the Canadian equivalent). Scientists have been “ threatened, harassed, and denied promotions in retaliation ” for their work. Even farmers who sign pledges not to use rBGH have been threatened with legal action by Monsanto, which argues that labelling products as rBGH-free would “deceive consumers” by suggesting that one kind of milk is safer than another.

The depressing corruption that permeates the FDA and its policies on GM foods is an ongoing theme. Smith brings the story down to individuals working in the FDA and their association with industry and highlights several examples of the FDA supporting biotech applications for new GM crops and products.

This book is about the US (and a little on its puppet state, the UK ), but is of paramount importance to countries all around the world. The endorsement of a GM product by the US heavily influences others, usually to the tune of ‘ We are all eating it, so why can't you? ' Read this book and stop GM entering your country by rejecting US assertions that GM food is safe.

For more information, go to

Available from Green Books for £9.95 paperback:
Email: [email protected]
Tel: +44 1803 863260
Fax: + 44 1803 863843
Mail: Foxhole, Dartington, Totnes, Devon TQ9 6EB, UK.

“This was an early example in a long line of experiments with unpredicted results. In fact, the single most common outcome of genetic engineering has been surprise”
Author: GRAIN
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