GMO OMG review, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (lack of) position on GMOs, and Genetic Roulette Screenings
GMO OMG is a film by Jeremy Seifert focusing on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in our food supply. This is Seifert’s first full-length documentary, and that is apartment in some aspects. Specifically, much of the movie is spent showing us that Siefert as a typical parent, concerned about what he is feeding his own children. In between the many shots of him with his family, traveling around the country asking people if they know what GMOs are (of course no one does!), taking pictures of his kids holding “GMO” signs, and many interviews with conventional farmers sharing their experiences with GMOs, there are some interesting scenes.
If there was one image that stuck out after the movie, it was the Haitian peasants lighting Monsanto seeds on fire in an act of protest. In 2010, a few months after the devastating earthquake in Haiti which took the lives of over 100,000 Haitians, Monsanto “donated” seeds to Haiti. I was surprised to read after I saw the movie that the donated seeds were hybrid seeds and not genetically modified (this is not mentioned in the film). Anyway, I don’t remember hearing about these protests before, and the footage of the Haitian’s burning the seeds made me wonder why these poor peasants would burn donated seeds. Well, one reason was because Monsanto donated the seed to the Haitian government, which then charged farmers to purchase the seed. Furthermore, as with all Monsanto seeds, farmers must pay annually for seeds, whereas if the farmers were using their own seeds they would be able to save seeds for planting next year. It is briefly mentioned that hundreds of farmers have been sued by Monsanto for saving seeds (sometimes unknowingly that their crops have been contaminated) but this was not explored in the film. Apparently, Monsanto has filed over 140 lawsuits against farmers for planting the company’s GMO seeds without permission, while settling around 700 other cases without suing.
Another interesting part was about the Rodale Institute and the Farming Systems Trial (FST). Begun in 1981, the FST compares two organic farming systems—manure-based and legume-based approaches—to conventional farming methods. The FST found that after a few years to allow fields to restore diverse biological activity, organic crop yields are comparable to conventional systems. Furthermore, organic yields exceed those of conventional systems in years of drought and other stress, and less carbon is used in organic farming. I would have liked to hear more about the FST, especially since the crux of the pro-GMO argument seems to be that since there are over 800,000 million hungry people around the world, we need GMOs and conventional farming to “feed the world”, never mind the fact that American farmers already produce almost 4,000 calories per day per person (more than twice the daily amount needed for most people). Again, this disparity could have been explored, with the probable conclusion that GMOs are not feeding the world, they are used to make many unhealthy processed foods, biofuels, and animal feed; but instead we get more shots of family footage and running through corn fields (in Hazmat suits!). I came away from the movie feeling I know Seifert’s family as much as GMOs.
It was cool to see Seifert’s older son was so fascinated by seed saving. The film featured shots of the Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) and the global seed vault. Seifert and his family visit SSE in Iowa, and his son is so excited it made me smile. SSE is a non profit dedicated to preserving heirloom plants, founded in 1975. Currently, SSE has over one million seed samples, including more than 20,000 varieties of endangered seeds, and over 13,000 members!
Then we visit the vault. Svalbard Global Seed Vault’s mission is to provide a safety net against accidental loss of diversity in traditional genebanks. The vault is an effort of many nations throughout the world working together, can’t say that about much else today! The vault contains over 770,000 samples! The security systems and coldness (0 °F) are surreal. It is located in a secure location in mountain on the island of Spitsbergen off of the coast of Norway. Even if the cooling system fails, it would take at least several weeks before temperatures would increase to the temperature of the surrounding sandstone (26 °F). I am glad that something like this exists, just in case the worst happens…
Also mentioned is the “Gene Technology Act” which was passed in Norway in 1993. The act states that “the production and use of genetically modified organisms and the production of cloned animals take place in an ethically justifiable and socially acceptable manner, in accordance with the principle of sustainable development and without adverse effects on health and the environment.” Since, for many reasons, the current GMOs are not considered by most to be ethically justifiable and socially acceptable, there are currently no GMOs in Norway. In fact, many other countries around the world regulate or outlaw GMOs. Europe requires that GMOs are subject to extensive, case-by-case, science based evaluation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) though GMOs used as animal feed are not regulated. Russia has banned GMO corn due to cancer concerns (see below).
Next, we meet up with Gilles-Éric Seralini, the infamous lead author on the retracted 2012 French study “Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize.” Seralini is notorious because when the study was released he held a press conference to promoted a book and film about the study. If that wasn’t enough, selected journalists were given access to the study only if they signed a confidentiality agreement that prevented them from discussing the paper with scientists unless they wanted to face a penalty of “several million euros for damages.” Unfortunately, GMO OMG was released in September 2013, before the paper was retracted in November. Nonetheless, the film portrays Seralini as a legitimate researcher, and does not mention either the book promotion or confidentiality agreement. Pictures of rats with tumors are shown, and the conclusion is that rats fed GMO RoundUp ready corn and RoundUp itself were more likely to have tumors then the control group. The film does touch on the controversy briefly, stating that industry experts (pro-GMO) are concerned that the type of rat (Sprague Dawley) used in the study is prone to tumors, and that Seralini should release his data. Seralini counters that he used the same rats that Monsanto used in their 90 day studies, and that he will release his data when Monsanto does the same. Personally, I have not read the study so I can’t comment. Also, there are shots of Dennis Kucinich (former Ohio congressman and mayor of Cleveland, Represent!) discussing the lack of research that was presented to the FDA when GMOs gained GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status.
So where are we now?
In 2012, California would have been the first state to require GMO labeling, but biotech companies spent $46 million to defeat proposition 37 (51.41% voted against labeling though a majority favored labeling prior to Biotech lobbying).
Equally as soul crushing as the money spent by biotech lobbyists was the feeble response of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formally known as the American Dietetic Association), the largest association of Registered Dietitians in the US. What did RDs think of prop 37 and GMO labeling?
According to registered dietitian Ethan A. Bergman, president of the ADA. “We are concerned that California’s voters are being misled to believe the nation’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals is against Proposition 37, when in fact, the Academy does not have a position on the issue.”
That’s right folks, the Academy tried to wait it out until they were forced to take a position (the quote above was in response to an error in the California Official Voter Information Guide regarding Proposition 37, which inaccurately states that the Academy “has concluded that biotech foods are safe.”) The Academy consistently tries to sell RDs as “nutrition experts” but then when important nutrition issues arise, we have no position. If anything, the Academy could have stated that more research is needed, but there is no harm in a label so customers can choose what they eat. If anything, can’t we at least agree on the precautionary principal. Per the Academy’s statement linked above, “a new position paper that will address GMO and GE foods is expected to be published in 2013.” It is now 2014, many other states are considering GMO labeling, and still no position from the Academy. I am told by another RD that there was a position paper published in 1999 with ties to Monsanto, but it has long been removed from their website…
There is good news though, Connecticut and Maine have passed laws to require GMO labeling. Watch out though, big food companies will continue to find new ways to fight GMO labeling, this time trying to make voluntary GMO labeling a federal standard, which (of course) would outlaw states from requiring GMO labeling. Voluntary GMO labeling would do little, as food companies would likely use this to only sell foods which are not GMO to begin with.
The film ends on an upbeat note, similar to Food Inc. The people have the power and we can change things if we really want to and get organized. Unlike Food Inc. the message is that we can’t shop our way out of this (if I remember right, it’s been awhile), we need to change our policies if we want to have the choice to avoid GMO foods. Seifert’s debut film is not perfect and way too much time is spent with the kids that could have been spent expanding on the bigger issues (we get it, you’re a normal dad dude). Hell, even I had to do a lot of expanding to write this article. I appreciated the movie because it brought a lot to my attention in a subtle way. This movie is good introduction to the issue to GMOs, especially for families, but if you are looking for a deeper analysis of GMOs you may want to keep looking.
In fact, GMO Free Northeast Ohio has a couple of upcoming screenings for the movie Genetic Roulette: The Gamble of Our Lives. I am planning to check it out, and I hope you can too.
Genetic Roulette Trailer: