"(Monsanto) should have been more transparent (about GMOs) in reaching the public." — Dr. Robert T. Fraley, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Monsanto.
This statement may win the "duh" award. Monsanto's actions have been a huge force behind people's concerns over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) since they came into force in 1996.
The primary purpose of the Food Evolution film is to make fun of those people who see GMOs as a threat and mocking them for not understanding the nuances of genetic engineering.
The film starts out with the story of the rainbow papaya in Hawaii. The rainbow papaya was nearly wiped out until scientists put a gene into the rainbow papaya and ended up saving the crop. The film notes that one Hawaii county voted to ban GMOs while leaving an exception for the rainbow papaya. The scientists in the film mock their ignorance over not seeing that GE and GMOs are the same technology.
Food Evolution talks about the advantages of genetic engineering such as golden rice, where Vitamin A is added to rice in areas that are deficient in that vitamin, a potential allergy-free peanut, disease-resistant crops, and drought-tolerant crops. The film also explores Uganda bananas with a similar concern as the rainbow papaya in Hawaii. The film puts the blame on anti-GMO proponents for why bananas can't be saved in Uganda.
The people behind Food Evolution don't understand the confusion behind genetic engineering as a concept but you don't have to read too much into the film to see there are some benefits to genetic modification of food. Neil Degrasse Tyson, who narrates this film, should make his own film about the science to help people understand the concept.
Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle are in this film. Their excerpts in the film make them look more like hostages reading off a script. The statements are brief and offer absolutely no context to anything else they might have said in the interview. Both Pollan and Nestle have complained about the editing of the film.
Director Scott Hamilton Kennedy employs a number of questionable edits and choices in the film to put opponents in bad light that make viewers uncomfortable, even if you are likely to agree on the subject.
The Washington Post science journalist Tamar Haspel is in the film. I don't always agree with Haspel but was curious to see where she was on the topic. Haspel tells us that "we make decisions based on our gut." Not very scientific. Haspel doesn't contribute anything of science in the film, an odd omission and a bit disappointing. Given that she has an opinion on most everything, viewers can infer that her answers didn't suit the message of the film.
Kennedy brushes off the story of Monsanto suing farmers over the patents of their seeds. He implies that this really comes down to one case in Canada and that farmer had a lot of Monsanto seeds that he just didn't want to pay for. A very simple Google search with legitimate news sources would tell you Monsanto has sued hundreds of farmers in the United States over the patents of seeds. One case involving Indiana soybean farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman went to the Supreme Court of the United States; Monsanto won that case. Again, the facts are easy to prove. So why lie about a small thing such as this?
The film spends a bit of time about a Gilles-Eric Seralini study on tumors in rats. The scientists blame GMO fears off this specific study. The scientists make a common mistake assuming regular people have a specific study as a reason for being concerned about GMOs. Maybe their concerns about the study are quite legitimate. The problem is that refuting one study or so-called expert doesn't win you an argument.
Food Evolution goes after Dr. Oz a lot. A Venn diagram would find some common areas of those who question Dr. Oz and are anti-GMOs. The film goes out of its way to mock people such as Zen Honeycutt of Moms Across America, Jeffrey Smith, and the Food Babe.
The folks with March Against Myths challenge Honeycutt on the streets in downtown Chicago. The filmmakers think March Against Myths won the argument hands down, but the consensus is that neither side dealt well with their argument.
A primary argument against Moms Against America and the Food Babe revolve around products they sell on their Web sites. This is one of many moments in the film where the viewers would shrug and say "so what."
Mark Lynas is a food science journalist who switched from being anti-GMO to now being pro-GMO. Lynas apologized for vandalizing field trials of genetically engineered crops. He says in the film that if we were totally organic, we would have to get rid of the rainforest to feed the world's population. That last sentence seems more hyperbole than science not to mention that the rainforest is already being destroyed even with GMOs.
Food Evolution does reflect briefly on the dominance of Monsanto and other similar players with 90%-93% of GMO dominance of corn, soybeans, and cotton. You can like Monsanto and still be concerned about those statistics.
Food Evolution makes the argument that glyphosate is better than other pesticides. The film mentions that glyphosate has a LD50 mark of 5600 mg/kg, which by that measurement makes it less toxic than either caffeine or table salt. That sounds too impressive. But this is the only measurement that is in the film.
The film spends about 2-3 minutes on organic farming. The talk is positive about organic but does point out that the "challenge is producing food on a large scale." This speaks to the theoretical advanced yields of GMOs, which relates back to the Lynas rainforest comment.
The film concludes with a debate from Intelligent Squared in New York City in late 2014. The question is over genetically modified food: yes or no.
Those numbers look really great for the pro-GMO side. The debate parallels the film in that the acceptance of genetic modification is an implied consent to glyphosate and Monsanto. You can watch the full debate and see for yourself.
The film runs a graphic about net sales of Whole Foods vs. Monsanto. The Whole Foods number is slightly higher. No context is given but the implied message is along the lines of Whole Foods is also a big scary corporation.
The companies are set up very differently. Whole Foods has to deal with brick-and-mortar locations, delivery issues, petty theft, and dealing with consumers. Monsanto and other similar players have a 90%-93% dominant market share where farmers are forced to buy their product every year. And the more resistant weeds are developed, the more Roundup has to be bought, increasing sales.
This "liberals are afraid of large corporations" argument is confusing at best. Apple Corporation is only one of many arguments against the concept. Liberals might be afraid of some large corporations but they are very afraid of Monsanto.
Nothing in this review or the film spells in a definitive manner whether glyphosate, Roundup, or Monsanto is beneficiary to the public. Food Evolution makes a good and fairly solid reasoning for exploring genetically modified food and the potential benefits. Past that, the film suffers from bad or awkward editing to make opponents look clueless and stupid. At other points, the film is plain dishonest.
Most films on food do promote organic and similarly grown methods. The difference with those films is that they are more positive about the attributes of their leanings and they want to inform those who do not believe instead of making fun of them. Food Evolution could use some of that etiquette and a lot nicer editing process.
The more knowledgeable you are about the food supply, the easier you can follow the truth and the hype in Food Evolution. But if you already are that smart about the food supply, chances are you won't learn much from the film.
video credit: YouTube/Abramorama Inc