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The last word on GM risks
on June 8, 2007
What's your response when someone comes out with a statement they've picked up from somewhere to the effect that "There's no evidence that GM food is harmful"?
If you have time and energy, perhaps you manage to scrabble together bits and pieces from memory, the web, or an article. But considering the number of calls that the business of living places on us, perhaps you just shrug your shoulders and muse that the world is going to hell in a handbasket of Bush, Blair, and Monsanto's making and there's nothing you can do about it.
Well, now there is. Just point them in the direction of the latest book from Jeffrey Smith, Genetic Roulette.
A must-read for policy-makers, educators, and journalists, it's also invaluable for anyone who wants to sharpen their weaponry in the battle against the imposition of GM foods. And judging by emails I've received from students asking about the risks of GM food, every educational institution and public library needs a copy.
Those who enjoyed Smith's previous book, Seeds of Deception, should be warned that this isn't the same sort of read. Seeds laid out the fraud of GM through its stories: the honest scientists who were gagged, threatened, and persecuted; the consumers who got sick and died from eating a supplement produced with GM bacteria, only to have their suffering covered up by a government protecting industry interests. Genetic Roulette is not a book of stories, but an easy-to-use reference book of scientific and other documented findings on the risks of GM foods.
Contrary to what the industry would have us believe, a considerable number of findings show GM causes harm, and they are clearly presented in this book. Given the worrying lack of substantial published research, Smith also draws upon unpublished studies, case studies, medical reports, media reports, and eyewitness accounts. Unlike the notorious pronouncements of biotech industry supporters, statements of opinion are never misrepresented as scientific fact. The author has gone to great lengths to maintain accuracy, having each section of the book checked by at least three scientists.
Conspicuous by their absence are follow-up studies to those that show harm from GM foods. The book details tactics that industry uses to bury inconvenient research, including ignoring it, attempting to discredit the research or its authors, and funding competing studies so poorly designed that no meaningful findings can be extracted. If all else fails, industry-aligned researchers discount deaths of experimental animals or claim that statistically significant results have, magically, no significance at all.
The layout of the book is an exemplar of clarity and should serve as the model for any reference book. It is designed to make the material accessible to three levels of reader: scanners, casual readers, and those who want detail. Each double-page spread is devoted to a problem with GM foods, with the left-hand page having the topic heading, a quote by an expert, and a few summarizing bullet points; the right-hand page gives technical detail. You don't need a science background to understand it. While the book is not bedtime reading, terms are defined and the boggle factor is kept low. The table of contents enables the reader to scan the problems with GM food and quickly to access the evidence on each.
Smith has to be the best science communicator alive today, and this book stands as the final word on GM health risks. It's the definitive answer to those who don't know, those who don't want to know, and those who know but don't want anyone else to know.