September 16, 2005

Food For Thought

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Before biting into that sandwich or pouring that bowl of cereal have you ever wondered what is exactly going into the food you are eating? Besides the obvious answers of water, corn syrup and other common ingredients, we may now be entering an age when we have to consider if our foods have been altered on a genetic level.

A new documentary, The Future of Food, poses this question and extends an interesting argument about the consequences that genetically altered food may have on the environment and us. The film, created by Deborah Koons Garcia (actually the widow of well know guitarist Jerry Garcia) will be shown at the Willard Straight Theater this Saturday at 7p.m. and be followed by a panel discussion.

The Future of Food actually starts out highlighting the early stages of the green revolution when scientists attempted to make crops more similar and mass produced. However this industrialization of agriculture also made it easier for diseases to attack the uniform food supply. As a result, the need for pesticides increased giving a larger market to pesticide corporations, particularly Monsanto.

Garcia highlights the unusual phenomenon of how pesticide companies like Monsanto bought up seed companies to control both sides of the market, and then started to develop crops that would hold up to powerful pesticides like Round Up. Even more interesting, the documentary shows how corporations have managed to patent their plants so they can actually own a living organism. The Future of Food is quite straightforward in its criticism of genetically engineered plants. It highlights how farmers have been bullied by large corporations when patented seeds inadvertently pollinate in their fields. The documentary shows how genetically modified organisms, usually referred to as GMOs, threaten the natural development of plant life. It also is highly critical of the government’s passive nature toward the spread of genetically modified organisms as its agencies have been courted and manipulated by powerful corporations.

The main theme through the documentary is the unpredictability of GMO science. Garcia’s film argues that unlike other technology which can be built, tested, and dismantled if necessary, GMOs are living organisms that change and adapt. Once a GMO is in the food supply, it cannot be taken back. Therefore GMO technology is taking us into uncharted territory with little hope of retreat. The documentary also asserts that the main argument for GMOs, to combat world hunger, is also false. Instead, Garcia argues that GMOs force subsistence farmers off their land to make for large scale planting and forces them into large urban slums.

The film is not just an attack on GMO technology. It offers solutions and other opportunities to GMO food. One such recommendation is the need to label all food that comes from GMOs, which is already being considered in many countries. The other solution offered by Garcia is relatively simple: support you local farmer. The Future of Food argues that the rather complicated world of GMOs can effectively be bypassed by simply visiting a farmers’ market. The Future of Food certainly makes no apologies for its attacks on corporations forwarding GMO technology and it is quite obvious that the film forwards a specific viewpoint. However, The Future of Food effectively brings attention to a pertinent, but often overlooked issue of our time and does so in an easy to understand, and interesting method.

After seeing this film, it will be interesting to see the viewpoints of the other members of the panel discussion, which will include Garcia herself. Other members of the panel, moderated by Associate Professor of Nutrition Policy David Pelletier, will include Berkley Assistant Professor of Microbial Engineering in Environment Science Ignacio Chapela, Executive Director of the Organic Seed Alliance Matthew Dillon, Professor Margaret E. Smith of the Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics and Professor Emeritus Milton Zaitlin of the Department of Plant Pathology.

Archived article by Mark Rice
Movie Editor