SP (initials used by his request) recently made my acquaintance via email and shared his essay My Thoughts On GMOs, which I published to very positive reviews back on September 4. SP is an American expatriot who was living in Ecuador but is soon jetting off to Tibet and who also happens to have studied science writing. His default mode is a gentle but probing “now let’s just see about that” stance. As an American outside the US looking in, his global viewpoint comes across to me as steady, informed and realistic.
A few days ago SP emailed me again, this time about Jeffrey Smith, you know, the Institute of Responsible Technology (IRT) guy, the self-proclaimed ‘expert’ on all foods genetically modified. Having commented on an article at Biofortified, SP implored me to do my part to call out Jeffrey Smith. The original article, Who Is Jeffrey Smith?, written by plant genetics luminary Anastasia Bodnar, appeared on Biofortified back on June 22, 2009. It is a testament to the article’s ongoing relevance that people are still commenting on it now.
Since the writing of that article, Jeffrey Smith’s exposure and fame has metasticized. His documentary Genetic Roulette has circled the globe, won a smattering of awards, continues to be highly criticized by mainstream science, yet still serves as “Anti-GMO 101″ for budding soldiers of the movement. I myself was duped, and frightened out of my wits by that video when I first saw it back in October, 2012. Now, Smith tours extensively, fulfilling a schedule of appearances at seminars, webinars, forums and all manners of group gatherings in which the topic is anti-GMO. Aftert a quick glance on the IRT website, I counted 24 upcoming Smith lectures and appearances and the schedule is only posted through November 9. He pounds pavement all over the US in the coming weeks – Maryland, Indiana, Idaho, California – on he marches, welcoming new, enthusiastic converts to the fold everywhere he goes.
So here I am, doing my part.
But first things first: SP, I think your lifestyle is pretty cool, from what little I know of it. Jetting off here, there – first Ecuador and now soon to be off on a visit with Tibetan monks. You seem to be living chapters right out of Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge - one of my all time favorites.
OK, now down to business.
On Biofortified, Anastasia Bodnar published the article titled Who Is Jeffrey Smith? Lacking the list of credentials that would indicate he knows what he’s talking about, he is nonetheless one of the most influential voices in the burgeoning anti-GMO movement. He plays the fear card with the adeptness of a trial lawyer and while I believe he thinks he is well-meaning, he is grossly misleading people and causing otherwise sane individuals to be scared to eat food from their local grocery store. He uses psuedo-science to back up his claims. See Yogic Flying and GM Foods: The Wild Theories of Jeffrey Smith.
SP shines his own light on what makes Smith tick in his comments below which originally appeared on the Biofortified site in response to Bodnar’s article. The bolding is mine.
Jeffrey Smith runs the Institute for Responsible Technology out of his home in Fairfield, Iowa. Yes he does make pretty good money through being a very skilled communicator of distortion and half truth on genetically engineered foods. According to academicsreview.org, IRS filings show Smith’s home based business grossed over $200k/yr for each year, 2008, 2009, and 2010. Likely the income is generated from speaking fees, donations, and book sales. His own website is quite self promotional.
As a yogic flyer, it can be safely assumed that Smith was well embedded in the culture and practices of the Maharishi Mahesh TM movement. A core aspect of the TM movement was the practice of working hard to make a lot of money through semi-religious business ventures. Smith has succeeded, by consistently bending the truth and being a skilled persuader. Part of his agenda is to support his friends and business associates in the organic food movement. Big money there too.
I would call Jeffrey Smith a very talented fear mongerer and first class promoter of mis-information cloaked in the veil of serving a high and noble purpose. Of course he reveals little about his own background for it would dramatically undermine the credibility that he has falsely gained.
People like Jeffrey Smith have so frightened the USA and Greenpeace has so frightened the rest of the world that most countries now have an unnecessary regulatory burden only Monsanto can afford. Universities and private research centers can no longer afford to be in the molecular plant breeding business. People in those sectors are feeling discouraged. Oh the irony.
Red grapefruit, seedless watermelon, most varieties of wheat, tritical, and many other common foods were produced by genetic modification far more brutal than what Jeffrey Smith is screaming about. For background on development of food crops, I recommend the book: Mendel in the Kitchen (by Nina Federoff).
He writes in his email to me:
Here’s a guy that’s blinded by his own light. He’s a VERY talented charlatan and liar. Unfortunately, he is influencing a very large number of people because of the considerable media attention he gets. Dr. Oz for example. After I watched his Genetic Roulette video, I felt like I was in a fear based trance. It was weird. Fortunately, that trance broke as I kept digging.The site that refutes Smith on a point-by-point basis is: academicsreview.org Trouble is, the scientific rebuttal is formal and very detailed. Smith wins on the basis of charisma and media power. It seems that media and fear mongering go well together. I’m kind of ticked off about that to tell you the truth.
Thanks SP. Safe travels and keep in touch!~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~