The Future of Foodrecommended viewing

Bad news for those who eat
★★★★
Released: 
2004
Director: 
Deborah Koons Garcia
The Setup: 
A documentary about the history, science, politics, prevalence and future of genetically-modified food.
Discussion: 

This is a scary documentary about the food industry, primarily in the United States, and the incredible way it's being transformed, largely without the knowledge of the public. This is a dense and information-packed documentary that is really worth seeking out and watching. I was going to add "if you're interested in this topic," but really, this is of interest to anyone WHO EATS, and those who are completely unaware of these issues are probably the ones who could use to see it the most.

The movie begins with the invention of pesticides and the prominence of the company Monsanto in this area. It mentions the fact, new to me, that pesticides are a bit like antibiotics; the more you use, the more pests become immune to them. Monsanto created the pesticide Round-Up, and then started genetically engineering "Round-Up Ready" seeds, which grew into plants that would NOT be killed by Round-Up.

Monsanto patented the genes codes of these plants, which was the first time that a form of LIFE was patented. A number of companies, led by Monsanto, went around decoding the genes to every form of edible plant, patenting its gene sequence. It is estimated that Monsanto currently holds 11,000 patents.

The legal ramifications of this are explored by the case of Canadian canola farmer Percy Schmeiser. Monstanto employees tested plants on his farm [without his permission] and found that he had some of their patented plants intermingled with his own. Percy uses his own seed that he has saved, so the Monsanto seeds probably got onto his property by blowing over from a neighboring farm, blowing off a passing truck, or even being carried by a bird. Nevertheless, courts ruled that Percy HAD infringed Monsanto's patent, even though it was not his fault that their seeds got onto his property. They then estimate that Monstanto has sent 9,000 letters to sue various farmers unless the farmers settle with the company. The farmers are then forbidden to ever discuss the case. Why is Monsanto suing these tiny farmers? Basically to force then to use Monsanto seed-the farmers usually must destroy their saved seeds from years past, which they could just use over and over again, and start buying Monsanto seeds, which in many cases have been modified to only grow for one harvest-which means that the farmers must buy new seeds every year. Toward the end, the movie shows a recent innovation of Monsanto's-seeds that won't even germinate unless you spray ANOTHER Monsanto product on them first. Those Monsanto folks-they sure know how to accessorize.

Another frightening legal precedent Monsanto has succeeded in winning for itself is in creating laws that stipulate that is a Monsanto plant cross-breeds with another party's plant-say like Percy, the seed just blew in from somewhere else, THAT PLANT BECOMES MONSANTO'S PROPERTY. Which is another way they could potentially take over farms that don't fall in line with their regime.

We then discuss the case of StarLink corn, which was the first time the public became aware that genetically-modified food was ALREADY IN the food system. This was that case a few years back when Taco Bell had to recall a bunch of tortilla shells. In order to get around the FDA, what you do is say that your genetically-modified food is very much the same as the ordinary food, and that way you don't have to LABEL the mood as genetically modified. Aside from not giving the public the chance to raise any outcry about it, not labeling the food as genetically modified removes the responsibility of the company-if you don't know your food is modified, you won't know to pursue that area of inquiry when you start having an allergic reaction or various other health symptoms. Oh, and don't think you AREN'T already eating genetically-modified food. The biggest surprise for me in the film was that if you drink SODA you're getting GM food. because all that corn syrup is from corn, and basically all corn you aren't buying organic by this point is genetically modified.

The movie has a short section on the startling amount of former Monsanto employees who are now in positions at the EPA or the FDA. Basically, if you've been following the news about how the Environmental Protection Agency is being staffed up with former oil lobbyists, it's the same thing here. And, since for the past few years it's been QUITE apparent that the FDA will approve anything that crosses their desks, this shouldn't come as a surprise.

The film addresses the argument that genetically-modified food has reduced hunger in third-world countries by allowing for more reliable crops. But, the film says, those farmers were forced out of sustainable farming BY the cheapness of GM foods, which made it cheaper to buy imported seeds. So the GM industry is saying it is helping solve a problem it caused in the first place.

There are a few other interesting factoids. For example, 3-4 patents have been introduced to patent tortillas. Meaning that Mexicans, who have created this food for centuries, would then have to pay someone else to make a tortilla. These cases are more common, as companies go to other countries and attempt to patent their foods, so they can then charge people for growing them.

Toward the end of the film, we have discussion of the "Terminator" gene, which is the gene mentioned earlier that will only allow seeds to grow once, forcing the farmer to buy new seeds every season. If you saw the documentary The Corporation, you are already familiar with this, as this was heavily discussed there. Here we get an even scarier discussion of 'what if these plants crossbred with other crops?' Meaning what if this gene got out into the regular plant population, and soon enough they would only grow one season and then die?

The end of the film moves into uplifting territory, complete with folk music, but I suppose they have to, as the preceding 75 minutes have been so unremittingly bleak. Basically the only solution offered is to be politically aware and buy organic. What they don't address is the fact that organic food is basically a food of the urban well-off, and the whole issue of class and race in regard to which foods are available. But that is separate topic, so I don't begrudge this movie for not covering it. What did occur to me is; isn't it strange to have gotten to a place where the only real political voice an individual has is to buy or not buy something?

Should you watch it: 

Yes. This is a fascinating and disturbing documentary that pretty much everyone should at least be aware of. If you don't get a chance to see it in a theater, be sure to look out for it in a few months on DVD or cable.