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John Robbins: Life on the Frontlines of the Food Revolution

Author John Robbins talks about the science of soy, meat production, our "disease care system," and how MLK Jr. influenced his work.

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TL: I thought your chapter on soy was very interesting. This can be a pretty confusing topic because there is a great deal of research on whether or not soy is healthy and some of it seems conflicting. Do you think that people are becoming unnecessarily scared of eating soy?

JR: Many people are, yes, I've seen that and then on the other hand there are people who've been excessively enthusiastic about it thinking soy was the answer to everything and the more you ate the better. We've had two developments in the soy world in recent decades that are a major concern. One of them is that now, almost the entire soybean crop in the United States that isn't organic is GMO with RoundupReady soy from Monsanto. The other is that food manufacturers have developed soy-isolated products that are far removed from the whole soy food and as such have some dubious nutritional realities. Both of those things are question marks about soy, although if you eat organic soy and you eat whole soy products those are problems you are managing to avoid personally, but they are still of course problems for society.

I think there is a balance here; whole soy and organic for most people eating the American diet can be a very healthful alternative to the factory farmed meat products. We shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater and there have been a lot of people who have. There are some people who have developed soy allergies in recent years and there are a lot of people showing up with food allergies today ... and we see the graphs, it correlated directly to the widespread use of GMO foods in our food chain.

We know from animal studies that animals that eat [genetically engineered] Bt corn develop all kinds of intestinal problems at very high rates, predictably and consistently. We know that cows and sheep that graze on Bt corn and Bt cotton fields after the harvest often die. There are many, many indications that genetically engineered foods aren't nearly as safe as the industry wants us to believe and as the government has allowed them to act as though they were that safe. The Obama administration as well as the former administration has basically just given them a green light without any testing requirements.

TL: I think you likened the proliferation of soy in all our food as a mass experiment.

JR: Right, but when animals are used in research, be it guinea pigs or rats or mice or whatever, presumably researchers are watching over and conducting the test and examining the results and trying to learn something of value from that. They may be cruel, they may be morally objectionable, but one at least assumes there is an effort behind it to learn something. But in the larger experiment of GMO foods there is no one watching over it, there is no one calculating what is going on.

For example, if a mother feeds her baby Gerber baby food and it is made with cornstarch and the cornstarch is GMO and the child has an allergic reaction, the mother has no way of knowing that the cornstarch in the product is GMO, nor does her pediatrician. So the child is sick and they do the best they can, but there is no way to trace it and no way to track it and there is no place to report it to the CDC or some other entity watching over to see what's happening to the guinea pigs: us.

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