U.S. activist circles globe to fight biotech crops
By Carey Gillam
KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - Jeffrey Smith is a man on a mission.
Each day, ever day for the last 12 years, the 49-year-old Smith has made it his personal calling to travel the world preaching against genetically modified crops.
From Poland to Brazil and California to Vermont, Smith has crisscrossed more than two dozen countries to preach to physician groups, regulators, political leaders, and consumer groups that gene-altered corn, soybeans, canola and other crops, when included in human food, can cause a range of serious health problems.
"GMOs have been linked to thousands of toxic and allergic-type reactions, thousands of sick, sterile and dead livestock and damage to virtually every organ and system studied in lab animals," said Smith, who has authored two books on the topic.
The New York native, who worked as a marketing consultant before turning activist, sees what he calls small victories all around him, including recent moves by major dairy companies and retailers to shun products derived from cows given biotech supplements, efforts by various U.S. states and local governments to restrict biotech crops, and wholesale bans on biotech crops in several foreign countries.
This summer, Smith and a consortium of U.S. organic food company players who see him as a champion for their interests are rolling out a U.S. marketing strategy aimed at convincing consumers in this generally GMO-friendly country to shun foods containing genetically altered ingredients.
"Jeffrey is respected as a public educator on GMOs and a person who is interested in aggressively spreading the word," said Organic Consumers Association national director Ronnie Cummins.
Smith, who has replanted himself in Iowa, the largest U.S. corn-growing state, is discounted as misinformed and misleading by supporters of biotechnology who say the safety of genetically engineered crops and food is well established. Even some fellow biotech crop opponents question his strategies.
"The whole message that Jeffrey Smith has - that these crops are unsafe - there is no validity to that at all," said Mary Boote, executive director for pro-biotech Truth About Trade and Technology. "Jeffrey Smith is articulate and strong in his personal beliefs. But he has no science background at all."
But funded by speaking fees, book sales and donations to his institute, Smith plans to keep circling the globe. Data that shows increased plantings of biotech crops around the world won't deter him, he says.
"If we can get millions of people choosing non-GMO products then the food companies will see GM as a liability and remove them from their products," said Smith. "We're going for an industry-wide clean out of GMOs."
(Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Marguerita Choy)