October is Non-GMO Month at Down to Earth, and in addition to our sale on Sunday 10.10.10, we’ll be featuring a series of posts on the work and writing of Jeffrey Smith, director of the Institute for Responsible Technology and one of the world’s leading experts on the risks of GM technology.

Jeffrey Smith is the author of Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You're Eating, the world's bestselling and #1 rated book on GMOs. His second book, Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, is an in depth exposé of 65 documented health risks of GMO foods. With his work at the Institute for Responsible Technology, he’s on a campaign to achieve a tipping point of consumer rejection of GMO foods. He’s circled the globe numerous times giving lectures and raising awareness about the risks of GMOs.

I told a friend of mine the other day that Down to Earth was participating in Non-GMO Month, and she gave me a blank look. “GMOs have a whole month? Are they really that big a deal?” I’m embarrassed to say that, like my friend and probably a lot of other people, I’ve heard about genetically modified (GM) or genetically engineered (GE) plants and animals for years, but I’ve never sat down and seriously examined the issues and the potential health and environmental risks.

Writing for Down to Earth, however, has really opened my eyes to this critical issue. Down to Earth has been at the forefront of efforts within the natural foods industry to raise consumer awareness about the dangers of GMOs. Now, as the evidence against them mounts, GMOs are becoming harder and harder to ignore.

The IRT website calls itself “the most comprehensive source of GMO health risk information on the web” and they back up that claim with an impressive array of easily accessible research. The health risks they list include increased allergic reactions, infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and “changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.” Those are pretty sweeping problems, and the medical establishment is taking them seriously enough that the American Academy for Environmental Medicine now advises physicians to tell their patients to avoid GM foods. At this point, GMOs have been on the market since 1996 and now include 91% of all soy products, 85% of corn products, 90% of sugar beets, and, closer to home, over 50% of Hawaiian papayas. (See the full list on IRT's website).

Sometimes when an issue is this big and this urgent, our first reaction is to minimize it. Growing up, I heard about tomatoes that had been crossed with fish, and I imagined a tomato with fins. I heard about a pig crossed with a jellyfish that glowed in the dark. The way adults talked about it, it sounded like a joke. I guess I assumed that if there really was a chance that GM foods could pose serious health risks, then someone would already be taking care of it. I’m young enough to still have illusions waiting to be busted. Contrary to my naive assumptions, the agencies charged with protecting the health of this country have done less than nothing to regulate GMOs. The FDA has failed on numerous occasions even to require investigations into the safety of GMOs before allowing them on the market. This, coupled with the FDA's refusal to require labelling of GM foods, has led many to allege that they are in the pocket of the biotech industry. Most tellingly, the current US Food Safety Czar is the former vice president of Monsanto, the world’s leading producer of GM seeds.

A growing number of scientists, farmers and activists are working hard to enact legislation banning the use of GMOs, but in the meantime it is up to each person to educate him or herself about how and why to avoid them. Education is our greatest weapon - that's why Down to Earth is promoting the Non-GMO Project Verified label, to help our customers find products that have been certified GMO free by the most rigorous standards. Until voluntary labelling catches on, however, IRT has a great shopping guide that will help you avoid GMOs in your food.

Right now, there’s a lot of money in biotechnology, and the industry players in favor of keeping GMOs in the food supply have a lot of power behind them. Everyone knows the saying “money talks.” But that truism cuts both ways. Corporations only have as much power as we give them, and they are highly responsive to customer demand. For example, when the dangers of GMOs were first broadcast in Britain, the public outcry was so great that virtually every major food company committed within a week to stop using GMOs in Europe. We hope that by joining our efforts with those of Jeffrey Smith, the Non GMO Project, the American Association of Environmental Medicine and numerous others, we can create that same tipping point of consumer rejection in America. Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we bring you the story of the man who blew the whistle on GMOs, the scoop behind the biotech propaganda backlash and updates on the GE salmon strain dubbed the Frankenfish.