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'Food Evolution' Reviewed

October 12, 2017

I have a genuine interest in learning more about the science behind GMO foods and the impact on human health and environmental health. When I first heard about this documentary I assumed that it would be one sided and little more than a marketing pitch promoting GMO foods. After reading a few reviews and seeing promotions for the documentary all claiming that it was focused on the science, that it was the scientists striking back, and it emphasizes facts over fear, I decided to watch it.

 

As I watched it, I kept waiting for the discussion of the science showing that GMOs have been tested and found to be safe. I kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting. At the end of the movie, without really discussing any of this evidence, my initial thoughts of the documentary had been confirmed. This was not a science-based documentary, it was emotion-based. There was no attempt to present the scientific argument showing GMOs are safe, there were only repeated attempts to use images of poor farmers that were impacted by pests damaging their crops, and how GMO crops were the only solution. There was a focus on Africa with the usual attempt to portray the Africans as poor and that they were essentially helpless without GMOs. Lines such as “When you say no to GMO, you are suppressing Africa” have nothing to do with science.

 

There was a broad discussion of common topics in the GMO debate. One was the use of pesticides; it was acknowledged that pesticide use has increased since GMOs were introduced. This was downplayed as not concerning because the pesticides are less toxic than previously used pesticides. The fact that weeds are developing resistance to glyphosate was also dismissed.  The question was posed of what would be done if GMOs were banned. The only conclusion presented was that farmers would have to return to the more toxic pesticides used previously. None of this is based on science. None of this is based on reality. There was also a suggestion that If all agriculture was organic, then all the rainforests would have to be destroyed to make up for the less productive methods. Again, not based on science or reality, no research was offered to back this claim up. This documentary gives the impression that industrialized monoculture is the only form of agriculture that exists. In reality, vastly superior forms of food production exist, with the most sustainable being permaculture.

 

In well-designed permaculture production, pesticides are not needed; neither are chemical based fertilizers. In permaculture, rainforests don’t need to be destroyed, and in reality forests are actually created in this system. The industrialized monoculture farms are typically considered the best form of agriculture based on the yield produced per unit of land. Evaluating agriculture by looking only at yield per unit of land is misguided. A more appropriate evaluation would include other factors such as the inputs required to produce that yield. The land and energy required to produce the pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and energy sources to power the heavy machinery also need to be considered. The impact on soil quality, microorganisms in the soil, water quality, erosion, and the impact of biodiversity also need to be accounted for. When the whole process is accounted for, it becomes clear that the monoculture approach is far from ideal.

 

When there was a presentation of a debate about GMOs, I thought we were getting to the science. Again, no specifics were presented, only the typical claims of consensus on the safety, the science supports its safety, it has been widely adopted. No real presentation of science. The only actual studies referenced in the film reached conclusions suggesting GMOs are harmful, and they were presented in order to provide a rebuttal or rationale for why they should be disregarded. There were numerous claims throughout the film of how clear the science is, and “to be concerned about the safety of GMOs is to be misinformed”, and “there are no studies showing harm”. The famous list of over 2000 studies was mentioned. Not one study was described that showed positive or even neutral effects from consumption of GMOs, unless I fell asleep during that segment. Perhaps if there was less of a focus on emotional appeals, or less time spent on selfies, or less time spent showing people that used to be anti-GMO that are now pro-GMO, they could have included some science. In one segment, a woman discusses an experience of having a stillborn child. She discussed how some people might assume that negative events like this may be due to GMO consumption, but concludes that the stillborn baby had no cause. Yes, the conclusion from a scientist was that an event such as a stillborn child has no cause. Is this conclusion…...scientific? No cause? The scientific explanation is that events such as this DO have a cause; it is simply unknown what caused it.  

 

Overall, this documentary was a complete waste of time to watch. It provided no specific research showing that GMOs are safe for consumption. This was certainly not a science-based documentary; it was without question an emotion-based documentary. As a genuinely interested and objective dietitian that would like more information and research on GMOs, here is my challenge to anybody that believes the debate is settled: provide a list of your top 10, or even top 5 highest-quality, most convincing studies that would convince me that GMOs are safe for consumption. The typical response of referring to the “2000 studies” or guideline statements or consensus statements is nothing but a cop-out. It is an attempt to take the focus off the individual studies – this is done because most studies (all that I’ve seen) are very low quality and most don’t even test GMO consumption.

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