Avery et al attack Jeffrey Smith (26/9/2005)

The following letters attacking the author Jeffrey Smith were published in the South African newspaper, BuisnessDay, today.

They come from the usual suspects. Alex Avery and the Hudson Institute needs no introduction. The other letter writer, Gurudev Singh (Khush), is a green revolution plant breeder who currently acts as an advisor to Ventria Bioscience - the firm who are having so much trouble getting American rice farmers and retailers to accept open field trials of their GM drug-producing rice.

Just as predictable as the background of the attackers is (a) the aggression - "it is time that fools like Smith are given the cold shoulder by the media", declares Avery - and (b) the deceitful and illogical arguments they deploy.

In particular, Avery makes a claim for "a decade of safe planting and eating of biotech crops", while Gurudev Singh spells out an exactly similar argument, "They have been on the market for 10 years now. There can be few Americans who have not eaten them. And there are not casualties so far."

This has to be one of the most deployed pro-GM claims of all time - right up there with "GM will feed the world" and "genetic engineering is no different to traditional plant breeding only more precise"!

And it's equally fallacious.

Even some supporters of GM are willing to own up to this, as an article in the journal Nature noted a few years back. Ben Miflin, former director of the Institute of Arable Crops at Rothamsted (UK), told Nature that under current monitoring conditions, "any unanticipated health impact of such foods would need to be a 'monumental disaster' to be detectable".

Despite which, Alex Avery happily asserts that, "Foods from biotech crops have not caused even a hiccup."

How exactly can he know that given there are no mechanisms for monitoring the impacts of GM foods? Indeed, how would we know if they were causing far more than a hiccup?

Ben Miflin points out that "a general increase in gastrointestinal disorders, for example, would be difficult to attribute to a particular food, given the diverse possible origins of such symptoms."

That's quite apart from the fact that foods with GM ingredients aren't even labelled in the States!

In the same article the EPA toxicologist, Dr Susan Wuerthele, points out, "It took us 60 years to realize that DDT might have oestrogenic activities and affect humans, but we are now being asked to believe that everything is OK with GM foods because we haven't seen any dead bodies yet." (Long-term effect of GM crops serves up food for thought, Nature, Volume 398:651)

Alex Avery asks of Jeffrey Smith, "Does he really think we're dumb?"

We might ask Avery the same question.

As Dr Judy Carmen of the Public Health Association of Australia points out, as consumers we get no benefit from GMOs and yet we take all the risk.

For a profile of Avery:
For a profile of Gurudev Singh and his former institute (IRRI):

BuisnessDay, 26 September 2005


You should have been a bit tougher on Jeffrey Smith before printing his claptrap about genetically modified food crops in, Modified feed "bad for SA's meat, dairy export hopes" (September 20).

They have been on the market for 10 years now. There can be few Americans who have not eaten them. And there are not casualties so far.

But spreading hysteria about genetically modified food helps to sell books, just as it helps to fund certain lobby groups. And no, I do not work for Monsanto.

Gurudev Singh

I challenge Jeffery Smith to name one danger presented to consumers from biotech crops that is greater than the normal food safety risks we all face. Not "maybes" and "mights", but a documented and existing danger.

He cannot do it. Foods from biotech crops have not caused even a hiccup, and are the most tested in human history.

They have been endorsed by independent food safety authorities and scientific bodies.

Does he really think we're dumb?

The biggest fool can ask more questions than the wisest man can answer. Enough of allowing political agendas to be hidden behind claims of concern over human safety or the environment.

After a decade of safe planting and eating of biotech crops, it is time that fools like Smith are given the cold shoulder by the media.

Alex Avery
Director of Research Centre for Global Food Issues, Hudson Institute, Virginia, USA

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