Jeffery Smith is a former Iowa political candidate for the Natural Law Party. Smith has no discernible scientific or agricultural training, but he believes, very strongly, that eating GE crops causes infertility, organ damage and endocrine disruption. The scientific evidence for these claims is about as strong as for saying “that looking at carrots will give you brain tumors”. But there is no way Jeffery Smith is going to let actual evidence trump his intuitions based on what he feels is “natural” (or “evidence” such as this, which according to Smith “puts scientists to shame”), and he has managed to become something of a senior figure in a movement that looks strikingly similar to the anti-vaccine movement.
Smith, whose actual education consist of business studies at the rather spectacularly unaccredited Maharishi International University, founded by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and who has enjoyed a career advocating yogic flying, has even written two books on GMO foods, Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods, which does not appear to be too careful about documentation (to put it diplomatically). He also runs a “think tank”, The Institute for Responsible Technology.
There is a useful resource on Smith’s claims here (“Smith has shown an amazing capacity to ignore the scientific literature on almost every topic he discusses”) and a thorough review of Genetic Roulette here. (Instead of a detailed list of the idiocy of Smith’s claims I’d rather direct readers to those resources.)
The problem is that people with real authority have actually taken Smith’s claims seriously. Famed British primatologist Jane Goodall, who has left any aspirations of respectability on these matters behind a while ago yet continues to enjoy some respect in certain circles, generously blurbed Smith’s book (“If you care about your health and that of your children, buy this book, become aware of the potential problems, and take action”) and cited Smith’s “research” extensively in her own Seeds of Hope (she also recommended a book on GM by Maharishi Institute executive vice president Steven M. Druker, who – surprisingly enough –has no scientific training either). Dr. Oz seems to be a fan as well despite being apparently aware of the problems with Smith’s claims; that is less surprising, but still sad. And these are not the only examples – even academic institutions seem to have fallen for Smith’s work on occasion. A good but scary example is here.
There is a useful intro to GMO foods here.
Diagnosis: Super-crank, denialist and conspiracy theorists, and probably one of the most dangerous ones in the US at present – the theme for his conspiracy theories has been trendy enough to endear him even to people who generally don’t fall for these kinds of things. A real and serious threat to civilization.