OMG! A film on GMOs: Review of “GMO OMG”

Monday evening, I had the opportunity to watch Jeremy Seifert’s new film GMO OMG. Jeremy and his family hold a special place in my heart because of our friendship that developed while he and I were in school together at Fuller Seminary. During the time that we were a part of a small group we called the “Hairy-Tics,” Jeremy got involved in documentary film-making and began working on his first film called Dive!. Dive! deals with the food waste in our country contrasting it with the hunger that so many people face. Dive! is a fun romp through dumpsters: it’s educational, challenging and entertaining. You can read my review of that film here.

Corn Labelled as Pesticide

GMO OMG is the perfect follow-up to Dive! This sophomore effort digs down into a subject that many people are completely unaware of or just afraid to know. Early on in the film Seifert interviews people asking them if they know what GMOs are (Genetically Modified Organisms), sure it’s not peer reviewed statistical data, but it is enlightening storytelling. Regardless, I believe the point is accurate: most of us know very little about GMOs, and know even less about why they should concern us. And there is a clear reason for this. There is a multi-billion dollar industry that is vested in American’s not asking too many questions or worrying too much about what’s going into our food and water supplies.

I’m not trying to suggest GMO is about conspiracy theories, it’s not. There’s no conspiracy here at all. One doesn’t have to look far to find that Monsanto and a handful of other biotech corporations have their hands in the pockets of politicians and lawmakers from the FDA to congress itself. One statistic that was shocking is that 300 people who have been a part of congress previously now work for these corporations lobbying congress to protect the interests of companies like Monsanto. Couple that with the fact that most people poll in favor of labeling food until these companies drop millions of dollars into state political campaigns to keep these initiatives from happening and we have a real challenge on our hands.

It seems simple to label GMO food so that we can at least make an informed choice about what goes into our bodies, the same way we do with fat, protein, and allergens, but once you throw millions of $$$ behind something it’s amazing how foggy things can get.

So when the FDA says that GMOs are safe or when there are studies done, we need to ask who are is the FDA and who are these scientists. What we learn is that people like Michael R. Taylor have worked for both the FDA and Monsanto, moving back and forth between positions. And after the President’s first inauguration he installed a number of Monsanto and other biotech execs into high-powered offices in the government.. No wonder there is so little research being done. No wonder there are so many high-profile new outlets, like the New York Times and the New Yorker, so critical of Seifert’s movie. There’s a lot of power being wielded in the other direction.

The film follows Seifert as he goes on a journey to learn about GMOs, why farmers use them, the science behind them, and what responses people and countries have had to the proliferation of GMOs. As other reviewers have noted, Jeremy turns the camera on his own family and this hits the desired effect – it keeps things personal, down-to-earth, and grounded in what really matters for many of us – the health, well-being and future of our children. GMO OMG is packed full of stories, interviews and data that span the spectrum of opinion about GMOs. But it is not a science film and Seifert’s main objective is as storyteller not biotech scientist. There are plenty of facts and research referenced, but to me that was less important than the story being told. A story that invites us to ask questions, to push harder on our policy-makers to inquire about GMOs effects, not only on our bodies, but on our planet, and to challenge the insidious influence of corporate money in American politics.

Other People Know Better

There is A LOT of money invested in GMOs being permitted in the states. Which is at least part of the reason why we are so behind the times. There been outlawed in 60 countries world-wide. These other countries have banned it until GMOs can be scientifically proven to be safe for humans and the environment. The US, under immense pressure from biotech industry, has decided to allow GMOs until they are “proven guilty.” Act now and ask for forgiveness later may be a great business model, but it sure is playing fast and loose with people’s lives.

When Monsanto donated tens of thousands of tons of seeds to disaster-struck Haiti, farmers and working people lit them on fire. They called them gifts of death. Other reviewers of the film (the NY Times and New Yorker specifically) discount this aspect of the film, surely poor peasant farmers from Haiti really don’t know what is best for them. Let us, intelligent upper class Americans tell you what is best for you.

What is it that poor peasant farmers understand about GMOs that we ourselves have missed? For one, seeds belong to everyone, they should not be patented, nor should they tampered with. Seeds, to the Haitian people, are sacred. We in the West have lost the sacredness of nature under the brute force of agro-industrialism.

Ask Questions and When They Get Annoyed, Ask More Questions

If Monsanto or these other companies are really on the up and up, why is there so much resistance to change? Why is there so much secrecy shrouding what really goes into our food? Why is there so much money being spent on lobbying the United States government? Why are they unwilling to release the raw data of their 3 month studies on the seeds to the public?

And, as Jeremy asks, “Why aren’t these companies proud of the safety of their products?”

None of this sits well with me.

My instincts tell me to follow the money and ask who has the vested interest here. And that alone means I’m less likely to trust what they say and do. It means they should have to work harder to gain public trust. Companies with billions of dollars can do anything they’d like and they don’t want it any other way.

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Lastly, another part of the story that does not sit well is the patenting of nature. I was struck by the film crew’s visit to Norway’s Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The vault houses seeds from all over the world, protecting heirloom varieties so that when [not if] there is a serious food disaster there are seeds to restart life. Profit over people will only last so long. What will we do when we finally hit rock bottom with this way of destroying nature?

If anything GMO OMG raises plenty of good questions and it encourages us to start asking questions as well. Whether all the facts can be disputed or not is beside the point to me – there is enough evidence to raise the primary question: what kind of world do we want to live in? And is it one in which nature is patented and controlled by corporations so rich and powerful that we, ordinary citizens, are not even allowed to ask questions of, let alone talk to?

Beyond just raising concerns, we need to educate ourselves and not assume that just because someone says a “scientist” says means that it will be fair or objective. There are plenty of folks working for these corporations and doing research at a slant. So when you read articles, ask who does this benefit, who’s actually behind this, who is funding this work?

GMO OMG raises the question about what we eat, but not just that, it raises the very question about whether food is ultimately a gift to be shared or a commodity to be controlled by those with the most power. If it is a gift from God it belongs to all of us equally and is to be shared. But if corporations fill the role of God for us, then we will worship at their throne, or we will go hungry.

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.