Do you know what a GMO is? If not, then you’re probably like the rest of the 10 or so people that director/writer Jeremy Seifert asked at the beginning of his new documentary GMO OMG. But don’t worry about it — the not knowing part, at least — because millions of Americans don’t either. But Seifert wants you to be aware of what’s in your food, and by the end of his somewhat lighthearted introduction, you may find yourself curious, if not horrified.
For those of you who didn't know, GMO stands for genetically modified organism. It's essentially a plant that has had another plant’s genes worked into its DNA in order to get desirable traits. Seifert focuses on two specific types of GMO: herbicide resisters, such as Roundup Ready crops, which can be covered in herbicides without dying, and pesticide producers, which have been modified to produce an insect-killing toxin.
'Even If It's Genetically Modified, Do You Still Like It?'
Seifert’s journey delves into just how deeply GMOs have pervaded the American food system over the past 20 years. He learns that about 90 percent of all cotton, corn, and soybeans are genetically modified. Interviews with both GMO and organic farmers provide insights into how GMOs can help feed the hungry and how GMOs may be harming the genetic diversity of crops, among many other things.
“My fear is not from the genetically modified seed. What we’re putting on that genetically modified seed and how much of that is absorbed by that plant … if it’s resistant to Roundup and we spray that plant with Roundup, does any of it get into the grain…” one GMO farmer told Seifert.
Seifert’s concern lies in his two sons’ future health. But they don’t seem too concerned — echoing many other perspectives around the country — as Seifert tells them that the ice cream they’re enjoying is probably loaded with GMOs. “Even if it’s genetically modified, do you still like it? Years and years from now, when you’re older it might hurt you, do you care?” he asks, to which his son responds, “I care … but it’s not making me dead still. This is the best ever!”
From running through a GMO cornfield with his sons while donning hazmat suits and gas masks to visiting Monsanto headquarters, only to be kicked out immediately. From visiting the Seed Savers farm to Norway’s Svalbard Global Seed Vault to Haiti’s Peasant Movement of Papay, his point is clear: GMOs must be bad.
Meanwhile, his kids still want ice cream, and some candy too.
Perhaps the most controversial issue Seifert addresses is a French study by professor Gilles-Eric Seralini, of the University of Caen. Seralini found that rats that were fed Roundup Ready corn, known as NK603, for the duration of their lives — two years — died earlier than those on a normal diet — a result of mammary tumors, or liver and kidney damage.
As expected, news of Seralini’s study blew up, and just as quickly, six French scientific academies, and numerous other experts around the world dismissed the findings. The academies said that “given the numerous gaps in methods and interpretation, the data presented in this article cannot challenge previous studies, which have concluded that NK603 corn is harmless from the health point of view.”
The World Health Organization says that “no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.” In the U.S., biotech companies, such as Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta, are required to conduct safety assessment tests on their products, after which the Food and Drug Administration's own scientists evaluate the data.
Using Seralini’s study and focusing only on potential health risks may not work in Seifert’s favor when it comes to a well-researched documentary, but it surely opens eyes — hopefully enough to get consumers to dig deeper and make educated choices about the foods they’re eating, whether it’s in support of food labels, cutting out all GMOs, or simply continuing to eat whatever they want.
GMO OMG is now in select theaters across the country. You can see where here.
If you’re interested in learning more about GMOs or want to take action, then visit these sites: