by Andrew Walden
The Future of Food, now showing in a handful of independent theaters and activist "house-parties," is the cinematic centerpiece of efforts to pass bills banning some or all genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in Hawai`i.
According to Alter net, "Future" Producer Deborah Koons Garcia says, "I'm hoping this film can be a combination of Silent Spring and The Battle of Algiers. Once you see it you'll feel compelled to act, even if that means just changing the kind of food you eat."
Garcia says she often sees people cry during the film, or they "get so freaked out about food that they stay awake at night and end up going through all their cupboards checking ingredients and chucking food." "Future" is being shown privately by anti-GMO activists in Hawai`i and to selected State legislators. "Future" was also shown at least a dozen times in Mendocino County, California, as part of a March 2004 campaign to pass County Measure H, banning GMO planting. GMO Free Mendocino spokesman Doug Mosel, says in a Wired.com interview, "The Future of Food could be the Fahrenheit 9/11 of the genetically engineered food battle."
According to "Future" Web site, www.TheFutureOfFood.com, "All the people who worked on The Future of Food are proud that our efforts have had a real impact in the real world." Besides taking credit for helping pass Measure H, the Web site crows, "The California Secretary of Food and Agriculture requested a copy of The Future of Food while he was considering whether to allow the planting of rice genetically engineered with a human gene that creates breast milk and tears. He subsequently vetoed the planting of the GMO rice."
According to a San Jose Mercury News article published on April 10, 2004, the 120 acres of GMO rice were to be planted over 100 miles from the nearest table rice crop. The genes implanted do not create "breast milk and tears", but rather "lysozyme and lactoferrin…natural antibiotics that occur in breast milk and appear to help nursing children ward off intestinal infections."
"If Ventria (the company developing the rice) can grow large amounts of the proteins cheaply, the proteins could be added to infant formulas and to inexpensive remedies for treating diarrhea, a condition that kills an estimated 3 million infants each year worldwide."
When questioned by this writer at a September, 2004 movie presentation in Hilo, Future producer Garcia suggested that Pepto-Bismol might be an alternative solution for dying African babies. She also acknowledged that no human has ever been shown to have been harmed by GMOs -- but emphasized that anti-GMO activists were working hard to find someone, somewhere -- suffering from food allergies or other as yet undiscovered disorders for which GMOs might yet be blamed.
Garcia’s attitude of callous disregard for the effects of her victories on the under-developed world’s poorest people is nothing new in the anti-GMO movement.
In 2002, anti-GMO activists from Europe and the United States convinced the corrupt government of Zambia to reject U.S. GMO corn shipments during a famine -- thousands died as a result.
The episode was repeated in Angola, where anti-GMO activists again convinced a corrupt government to block U.S. food aid from reaching the hungry.
Asked about these issues, Garcia suggested Africa did not need immediate food aid, but long term development aid. “Its better to wait 50 years” she said. Garcia, after a bitter court battle over the estate, lives in luxury in Marin County, California from the royalties of her late husband, Grateful Dead lead singer Jerry Garcia. She will not be amongst the hungry or the dying in Africa.
"Future" makes its points through innuendo and insinuation and is weak on supporting facts. The movie implies the "Green Revolution", introducing modern agricultural techniques to the under developed world in the 1960s and 1970s, is now failing.
The evidence? A monoculture in potatoes allowed blight to cause the 1845 Irish Potato Famine -- 115 years before the beginning of the Green Revolution.
The "scientific" advisors to the producers of "Future" are a "Who’s Who" of debunked anti-GMO researchers.
One, Dr. Arpad Puzstai, was the author of a 1999 study claiming rats that fed on GM potatoes developed stunted growth -- a result no subsequent researcher has ever been able to repeat.
Dr. Ignacio Chapela and grad student David Quist of UC Berkeley claimed in a 2001 paper published in the scientific journal Nature that "Bt" genes are spreading from GMO corn and "contaminating" native Mexican varieties in Oaxaca, Mexico. Further analysis of their work forced them to admit none of the genes they claimed to have been found could be demonstrated to be present in the native corn varieties. After publishing their initial findings, the editors of Nature, in April 2002, withdrew their support of Chapela and Quist saying, "Nature has concluded that the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper."
Opposition to modern monoculture agriculture -- GMO or not -- is a central theme of Future. Says one of the activists interviewed on screen, "A single genotype that's preferential crowds out diversity and that is a threat to food security." Other scenes tell of Mexican "land race" heritage corn varieties being "polluted" or "contaminated" by GMO pollen.
The irony is -- with or without GMOs -- corn genomes are constantly in motion from one season to the next. They are pollinated and cross pollinated -- never static. If a gene from GM "Bt" Corn pollinates a heritage variety, it is not "contaminated" any more than any other cross pollinated heritage variety. Instead it becomes protected from the ravages of the corn borer, an insect pest which cannot eat Bt. This protects and strengthens the survival of the heritage variety.
"Future" even uses out-of-context quotes from anti-GMO campaigners seeming to present wild assertions. In one scene, it is noted that genes giving resistance to some anti-biotics are used to make new GM plants. Then the movie cuts to Andrew Kimbrell, Executive Director of the anti-GMO "Center for Food Safety."
Kimbrell dutifully intones, "All medical professionals are intensely focused on this issue of anti-biotic resistance ... " It is not noted that the issue of anti-biotic resistance is related to the over-prescription of unnecessary pharmaceutical anti-biotics and the use of anti-biotic hand cleaners. There is zero evidence that GMO plants have anything to do with it. Plant bacteria are of different species than those afflicting animals or humans. Without concern for the truth, "Future" happily creates the misconception and allows it to stand unchallenged. The movie is riddled with such tricks.
One of the slyest editing jobs in the entire movie comes when Kimbrell’s comments are cut so viewers are left with the impression that genetic engineers are inserting viruses and bacteria into plant genomes -- an impossibility. Placing a bacterium inside a genome is akin to placing an elephant inside a mouse.
In genetic engineering to create viral disease resistance in plants, a piece of a viral genome--not an entire virus--is inserted into a plant cell genome to create immunity from viral infection. A bacterium, Agrobacterium tumefaciens, is sometimes used to do the job of inserting the desired genetic material -- but it does not become part of the modified organism.
In nature, Agrobacterium inserts its own genetic material into plants causing a plant disease known as Crown Gall. This ability, unique amongst bacteria, is why it is used in genetic engineering. Viruses are constantly floating around in the air we breathe. When they encounter an appropriate host, they insert their genetic material--that is the function of viruses.
By inserting genes causing resistance to viral disease into plants, genetic engineering keeps viruses out of plants. It is the anti-GMO activists blocking such efforts who would allow them in. When disease resistant plants are put in the field, farmers gain higher food production and crops require less pesticide.
There is no static genome in any life form. Genes are constantly moving around by way of viruses, viroids, and Agrobacterium, from one organism to the next. This process may play a key role in evolution.
The modern generation of humans may be the first to identify DNA, but we are not the first to genetically engineer crops. Since the beginnings of ancient agriculture, farmers have selected seeds with desirable traits and cross-pollinated varieties in an effort to increase production. Corn has been "genetically modified’-- from an original wild variety with ears the size of a gherkin -- to the full-sized ears we know today.
"Future" challenges the right of biotech researchers to enjoy the constitutionally guaranteed twenty-year patent protection given to developers of inventions. This takes up more of the movie than health claims and scientific issues. "Future" quotes one activist as saying, "Whoever controls the seed, controls the food." Another says of patented seeds, "It's like a return to the feudal system."
The lens focuses on the story of Canadian farmer, Percy Schmeiser, accused of violating patents on Monsanto’s "roundup ready" canola seed. His case went all the way to the Canadian Supreme Court. Schmeiser claims he never planted Monsanto seed. But according to an article on the decision, published in the July-August 2004 issue of the anti-GMO publication, GeneWatch, "the (Canadian Supreme) Court was at pains to point out that its decision was based on the facts as found at trial and that in different factual circumstances, a different legal outcome might have resulted." The Court’s uncontested findings of fact quoted by GeneWatch describe deliberate efforts by Schmeiser to obtain "Roundup-ready" canola seed by spraying three acres of his crop with Roundup brand herbicide. The surviving plants were harvested for seed which was planted the following year. The Court decision reads in part, "The issue is not the perhaps adventitious arrival of Roundup Ready Canola on Mr. Schmeiser's land in 1998. What is at stake in this case is the sowing and cultivation which necessarily involves deliberate and careful activity on the part of the farmer."
The two differing accounts of how the seed arrived on Schmeiser’s farm are not mentioned anywhere in "Future". Instead, the audience is treated to a sob story of how a greedy corporation dragged a poor little farmer into court. As the story goes, Schmeiser was forced to throw away a lifetime of careful seed selection due to inadvertent "gene pollution". Moviegoers aren’t told that the Court finds that he dumped his own seed voluntarily and tried to snag some free Monsanto seeds. Rather than opposing GMOs, Schmeiser apparently wanted them quite badly.
"The Future of Food" is a poorly made propaganda piece that fails again and again on the facts. Let the viewer beware.