By Annette Hinkle
This weekend, the Masters of Health & Wellness event returns to Dodds & Eder in Sag Harbor. Presented by Ana Nieto and her holistic health consulting firm Turtle Shell Health along with the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce, the two day Preventative Health & Sustainable Technology Expo is designed not only to highlight a range of holistic health practices and services, but also offer information on businesses and organizations promoting green or sustainable technology in the building trades.
“We’ve been doing this Masters of Health and Wellness event for three years,” explains Nieto. “Usually, they are small networking events. This year, we decided to go a bit bigger.”
“What we’re tying to do with the event is bring the community together — the different companies and anyone doing anything in the health and wellness industry,” she adds. “We usually focus on holistic health, but this year, we’re including sustainable companies. We’re also collaborating with Neoteric, the Amagansett Gallery, to bring in artwork.”
More than 30 vendors will take part in the expo this Saturday and Sunday, and Nieto explains the exhibitors tables will be set up in the parking lot of Dodd’s & Eder. Indoors, presenters will speak both days on topics such as healthy cooking, Feng Shui, food law and veterinary medicine. Congressman Tim Bishop will also give an address at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Saturday evening will be given over to a cocktail party and dinner (with food by Chef Todd Jacobs and his new restaurant Fresh Hamptons) benefiting the Slow Food East End Chapter. The goal of the Slow Food event is to raise funds to create a farmer’s market coordinator position on the East End.
Keynote speaker for the Slow Food event will be Jeffrey M. Smith, the executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology. Smith is a leading spokesperson on the health dangers of GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms) and in addition to his keynote address Saturday night, the expo will feature a 1 p.m. Sunday screening of Smith’s film “Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of Our Lives” with a Q&A discussion.
For the uninitiated, GMOs are organisms whose genetic material has been altered through engineering. It is particularly prevalent in this country in the form of seeds which have been designed to possess specific traits such as resistance to herbicides, pests or improved product shelf life.
But Smith maintains the crops that come from these GMOs which are prevalent in our food supply are causing all sorts of illnesses and allergies in society — everything from allergies, diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer’s. While the explosion of many of these medical conditions in America is largely blamed on poor diets and processed food, Smith contends the real culprit may not be the processed food itself, but, in fact, the GMO ingredients hidden within it.
Smith grew up in Westchester and spent summers in Montauk. But he lives in Iowa now, where genetically modified seeds are widely used by farmers growing crops for the American food supply. He notes his interest in GMOs began more than 15 years ago with a lecture by a genetic engineer who told the audience how dangerous he felt the emerging technology was.
“This was in 1996 when they were about to plant these seeds in the Midwest and he said everyone who eats them will have unpredicted side effects and it will pollute the seed gene pool,” recalls Smith. “I was alarmed and realized the concerns he was expressing were nowhere to be found in the press or anywhere else.”
“It was an infant technology without societal awareness and oversight,” he adds.
Smith explains that though the FDA sounded the alarm about GMOs in the early 1990s and the toxins, diseases and problems that could arise through their use, serious studies, he adds, were never done. Instead, Smith says, the government wanted to promote GMOs because it was believed they would help increase U.S. global domination of the food trade.
But it turns out European consumers as a whole weren’t particularly keen on eating foods made from GMOs and many refused to buy them.
“But even when that strategy backfired and they had to compensate for markets closed to GMOs, producers didn’t admit failure and just pushed to open up more markets,” he says.
One of the major markets has been the United States itself. And today, because there are no federal labeling guidelines in place, GMOs can be found in a staggering array of grocery store items without the public’s awareness.
But, notes Smith, the tide of public opinion is turning. Some of that he says is based on studies surfacing which show that when livestock herds suffering from ulcers, diarrhea and early death are switched from a GMO to a non-GMO diet, their health improves dramatically and quickly.
He adds that doctors are finding the same is true of people.
“Thousands of doctors are prescribing non-GMO diets today and are seeing improvement in their patients,” says Smith. “When you look at rising disease rates and the increase in GMOs, it’s shocking. We’re looking at diabetes, Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, Autism and Alzheimer’s and the cancers.”
“There’s a cover up of health dangers. We’ve caught the biotech industry rigging research to hide problems,” he adds. “Independent studies are rarely done due to the unavailability of funding. When they are done, there’s an immediate attack on the science and a personal attack.”
“It’s an orchestrated, well designed attack to set an example to dissuade anyone from doing the research,” maintains Smith. “That’s convinced scientists to refuse to do GMO research because they might lose their status or funding.”
Since 1998, Smith’s group has been documenting the stories of whistle blowers who speak out against GMOs. But, he adds, the PR machine for the bio-tech industry has effectively discredited studies and stories and kept them out of the mainstream media.
“But what has been working is consumer rejection,” says Smith. “This is one of the most critical times in my 17 years doing this work. We are seeing acceleration toward the tipping point.”
Just as consumers in Europe rejected GMO products by not buying them (forcing large US food producers to create non-GMO alternatives for that market), Smith now finds US consumers are taking things into their own hands through their purchasing power. That means largely turning to organics.
“The tide is turning here quickly,” he says. “The natural food industry has become very sensitized to the GMO issue. The non-GMO label sales grew 26 percent in 2012. The Whole Foods president said when the product is third party verified to be GMO free, sales go up 15 to 30 percent. The influence now is spreading, not just from the Whole Foods shopper, but throughout the spectrum.”
Smith notes all Target home brands will be GMO free by 2015 and Chipotle’s restaurant is currently labeling its GMO items and will be non-GMO soon. Meanwhile, Connecticut has passed GMO labeling laws and Washington State is expected to follow. Two dozen more states have introduced legislation, including New York which Smith notes has a hearing on the topic next week.
“We now have a consumer led revolt based on the documented science and more and more it’s based on direct consumer experience or stories of friends who removed GMOs from their diet and saw their weight and skin problems clear up, the fog lift, and improvements in asthma, Autistic symptoms and gastrointestinal disorders.”
“The stories are unprecedented,” he says. “When I started gathering them a few years ago, I was shocked. I never expected improvement would be so quick. The recovery was so dramatic when they got GMOs out of their diet.”
“The group with the greatest conviction that GMOs are a problem are health care professionals who get to tell thousands of patients to stop GMOs and see what happens — and now we’re seeing pet owners doing the same thing,” he says. “The proof is in the non-GMO pudding. It’s causing a revolution — like lighting a fire on dry grass.”
Smith adds that this weekend, in addition to seeing his documentary “Genetic Roulette” (which was named the 2012 Movie of the Year by the Solari Report and the Transformational Film of the Year by Aware Guide), and taking part in a Q&A, those interested in eating GMO free can get the Institute for Responsible Technology’s guide of non-GMO brands available on the market.
Smith is also hoping the focus on this topic in Sag Harbor will help spread the word about GMOs among the powerful and connected residents out here.
“A group of very successful people spend summer in the Hamptons,” he says. “They’re extremely influential, and may have ways to change things.”
The Hamptons Preventative Health & Sustainable Technology Expo runs from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, July 27 and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, July 28 at Dodds & Eder (11 Bridge Street, Sag Harbor). A day pass is $25. The Slow Food cocktail party and dinner is 5:30 to 9 p.m. on Saturday night is $150 ($50 for cocktails only). For a full schedule of events and to purchase tickets, visit www.mastersofhealthandwellness.com.