QUESTIONS ABOUT GMOs:
A review of GMO OMG, a film by Jeremy Seifert
By Ruth Thompson, Registered Holistic Nutritionist
The 2013 film GMO OMG addresses critical issues about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) now widespread in crops such as corn and soy. By definition, genetically modified seeds combine different species that would not occur naturally—they are man-made organisms. As a holistic nutritionist I promote natural nutrition (a.k.a. real food), and therefore, have my doubts about consuming GM crops. After viewing GMO OMG I was left with more questions than answers but, most certainly causes for concern.
Reviews of the film are varied. Rottentomatoes.com lists some positive reviews, while others are decidedly negative. Two are noteworthy:
“…[Seifert] omits anything that might hurt his obvious anti-GMO thesis.” ~ David Perry, National Post
“His most reasonable argument is that Monsanto and other megalithic companies should be more transparent about studies they’ve conducted on their genetically modified seeds. This is a crucial point and a good one. This point is not convincingly argued in GMO OMG.” ~ Simon Abrams, rogerebert.com
I want to respond to these criticisms of GMO OMG—first, that the film is one-sided, and secondly, that it is not convincing.
While Seifert had an obvious anti-GMO position, he did present the pro-GMO side which is that increased production from GM crops is needed to feed the world. He counters the GMO promise of higher yields with study findings that organic crops can yield just as well. This means that we could feed the world through organic production. Do we even need GM crops?
Beyond this there isn’t much of a GMO “side” to present because no supporting research has been released. The film maker did try to access research from a company that produces GMOs. He gets nowhere on the phone and when he visits a company office, he is immediately told to leave.
The film includes experts who talk about the dangers of mono-agriculture, but this complex issue had a cursory explanation. The books Empty Harvest[i] and Secret Ingredients[ii] reveal the down side of relying on one crop species. The less diversified our crops, the more likelihood of their being wiped out by pests and weeds. This is a threat to sustainable agriculture. In the film we learn that some weeds have already become resistant to the herbicide Roundup, and are emerging as new threats to GM crops. Will this trigger a new generation of GMOs?
Another anti-GMO point has to do with the farmers using GMOs. They are legally bound to buy seed each year rather than their traditional re-seeding from last year’s crop. Are GM crops creating a new form of serfdom in which farmers must live by the decisions of the lord (big business)?
Some of Seifert’s evidence against GMOs is circumstantial. He traced the employment of one lawyer who worked for Monsanto, then the Food and Drug Administration, then Monsanto again. Working for both the regulators of a business and the business itself strongly suggests a pro-business bias, in this case GMOs. Seifert mentions there are other examples like this, but does not elaborate. He is not the only one pointing to undue influence in favour of corporate interests. In Food Politics, Marion Nestle, PhD and respected nutrition educator, writes a convincing expose on the success of corporate lobbying with government regulating bodies.[iii] How can we be confident that the FDA was rigorous in its investigation when it approved GMOs in the 1990s?
Seifert’s film is less convincing of his belief that GM crops are damaging to human health. While several countries have banned GM crops over concerns of possible ill effects on human health, perhaps they did so out of fear. Right now we don’t know what the long term impact of GM crops will be. How long it will be before we know? And, if GM food turns out to be damaging to health, how many people will have suffered by then?
GMO OMG leaves some questions about the safety of GMOs unanswered. Where does this leave you as a consumer? Government regulators who approved GMOs are unlikely to ban them now for fear of losing public confidence. If you want to err on the side of caution with respect to GM foods, your only recourse is to use your purchasing power wisely. You can choose to buy organic produce, grass fed meat, and foods with a “non-GMO” label.
[i] Dr. Bernard Jensen and Mark Anderson, Empty Harvest: Understanding the Link Between Our Food, Our Immunity, and Our Planet (New York, New York: Penguin Putnam, 1990)
[ii] Stuart Laidlaw, Secret Ingredients: The Brave New World of Industrial Farming (Toronto, Ontario: McClelland & Stewart, 2003)
[iii] Marion Nestle, Ph.D., Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (University of California Press, 2007).