GMOs, global bio-pollution and the resurrection of local food systems.
‘…a master plan had been crafted to control the world’s food supply. This was made clear at a biotech industry conference in January 1999, where a representative from Arthur Anderson Consulting Group explained how his company had helped Monsanto create that plan. First, they asked Monsanto what their ideal future looked like in fifteen to twenty years. Monsanto executives described a world with 100% of all commercial seeds genetically modified and patented. Anderson Consulting then worked backward from that goal, and developed the strategy and tactics to achieve it. They presented Monsanto with the steps and procedures needed to obtain a place of industry dominance in a world in which natural seeds were virtually extinct.’
From the book, ‘Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating’ by Jeffrey M. Smith.
It was the mid 1960s when high-schooler Deborah Koons stared at the gnarled radish plants in her bedroom window and frowned, ‘I’m not going to eat that’, she decided. Following in the footsteps of the notorious Dr. Frankenstein, the Texas teenager purposely cultivated the monster plants by gene manipulation and irradiating them at her dentist’s office.
Her Frankenfood project not only won a blue-ribbon in the school’s science fair, but planted the seed for the creation of her latest documentary film, The Future of Food, a chilling investigation into the Genetically Modified Organisms and foods (GMOs) that have quietly filled consumers’ grocery store shelves for the past decade and whose bacteria, virus and antibiotic-filled pollen has contaminated organic and conventional non-GMO crops around the world.
Known as Deborah Koons Garcia since her marriage to legendary lead singer and guitarist Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, Garcia owns the production company Lily Films which produced the internationally debuted documentary.
‘Even though this stuff wasn’t even released when he was alive, Jerry would be proud of my work’, Garcia stated in an interview with byronchild magazine.
Jerry Garcia died in 1995.
‘My whole point in making this film was to create something that anyone could watch and understand. People need to understand this issue so they can speak up’, said Garcia. ‘One part is education, and another part is labelling, and the final is the unknown health problems. At this time, we are the test for those.’ Called the ‘Fahrenheit 9/11 of the genetically engineered food battle’ by film critics, the Future of Food’s comprehensive case against genetically engineered crops has provided anti-GMO food activists with a solid tool to educate the public on the complex web of market and political forces changing food as a handful of multinational corporations seek to control the world’s food system.
Using vintage film of traditional farming cultures, Garcia traces the past history of food and the eventual forced dependency of farmers upon the remnants of World War Two weapons research, repackaged as pesticides and herbicides, the advent of mono-cropping, and the dependency upon fossil fuels that gradually morphed into the current industrialised agricultural business.
With great patience and the soft narration of a young woman’s voice, the film takes on and dismantles the biotechnology mythology behind GMOs one by one. For example, pesticide turned-seed companies like Monsanto and Dow argue that biotechnology is nothing new and their use of genetic engineering to improve food crops is a natural extension of plant breeding techniques used for thousands of years.
It is this outright spin-doctoring of complex scientific fact that the film tackles through a series of simplistic drawings and gentle explanations as it reveals the truth: that GMO foods are the products of a high-tech cell invasion, using bacteria and viruses to forcefully break a cell’s natural defences to allow foreign genetic material to enter and create the ‘genetically modified organism’.
And then there’s the antibiotic markers inserted into the cell to confirm that the new genetic sequence is working. Underlining this violent process is the 40-year-old outdated ‘science’ and false belief that the selected and inserted single gene controls the one unique and desirable trait. Researchers now know that one gene expresses many traits and can recombine when released to the wild with unknown outcomes.
‘I did the cell invasion part deliberately about how genetic engineering takes place. I tried to find pictures or film depicting this process and I couldn’t’, said Garcia. ‘So we just created that sequence ourselves, with the idea in mind to make it as simple as possible to understand.’
By inserting genetic material from one organism into the permanent genetic code of another, biotechnologists have engineered potatoes with bacteria genes, tomatoes with flounder genes, corn with pesticide genes, and ‘suicide seeds’ created with ‘terminator’ technology that produce sterile and useless seed at harvest. In the millions of open acres where they are sown around the world, these genetically engineered plants release pollen into the environment where — unlike their genetically engineered pharmaceutical counterparts created and contained in labs — they can and have reproduced and infected organic and conventional crops, resulting in immeasurable global bio-pollution. (In January 2006, at United Nations sponsored talks on bio-diversity in Spain, activist groups — like the US-based Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism and the Canada-based Action Group on Erosion, Technology, and Concentration (ETC Group) who fight for the rights of peasant communities — urged UN experts to recommend that governments adopt tough laws against field testing and selling suicide seeds.)
‘The tools of biotech is what we’re worried about, the effect of these bacteria and viruses on mammals’, states Dr. Charles M. Benbrook, former director of the Board of Agriculture, US National Academy of Sciences, in the film. ‘The most cataclysmic force in the food system right now is that the medical community is terrified about the loss of antibiotics. Nobody really understands how using antibiotic marker genes in genetic engineering techniques might contribute to the problem. The medical community on a worldwide basis is focused on this problem now.’
Demonstrating the fact that GM technology is driven by profit and not science, its known threats to human and environmental health were well established in 1992 by the US Food and Drug Administration’s own scientists who found GMOs to have lower nutritional value due to the cell invasion technique, to create new allergies, to create immune deficiencies, and to have unknown environmental impacts. Despite their own findings, the FDA rated GMOs as Generally Recognised As Safe (GRAS), meaning that health and environmental safety tests were not required.
This GRAS rating was gifted to biotech companies after they successfully argued their GMOs were ‘substantially equivalent’ to classical breeding practices — meaning their genetically modified seeds were virtually the same as natural seeds. Over at the US Patent and Trademark office, however, the biotech companies sang a different tune, saying that their GMOs were so unique they would require a patent to protect their seed.
The result of these conflicting spins and victories is that biotech companies have legally harassed and sued thousands of farmers for patent infringement when their GMO crop pollen is unknowingly transported by wind or insects into their non-GMO fields. Adding insult to injury, federal courts in Canada have upheld the patent law and required the unsuspecting farmer to pay the bio-tech companies for their patent infringement and to be responsible for destroying the patented seed. Historically farmers were expected to ‘fence in’ their farms; now farmers are expected to ‘fence out’ seeds and pollen from crops they don’t want, which is impossible. (The Wall Street Journal reported November 8 that, ‘Such moves to restrict the spread of GMO crops often are ineffective. Last month in Australia, government experts discovered biotech canola genes in two non-GM varieties despite a ban covering half the country. “Regretfully, the GM companies appear unable to contain their product”, said Kim Chance, agriculture minister for the state of Western Australia, on the agency’s website.’)
In an effort to put a strangle-hold on farmers and to position their GE-foods for global dominance, biotech companies have gone into government seed banks and patented both GMO and non-GMO plants worldwide, including plants that have evolved in nature, or have been naturally hybridised, and belong to the commons. If this trend continues, impoverished countries will have to pay to use the plants that originated in their countries. Whoever controls the seeds controls the food. Hence Monsanto’s $8 billion dollar purchase of major seed companies over the last few years. ‘Why would corporations do this?’ asks Andrew Kimball, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, in the film. ‘Because they can take the one seed they want to replace those seeds and they will own the marketplace.’
While Garcia did ask for but did not receive a response from Monsanto, she correctly reports that many officials at the three main regulatory bodies — US Dept. of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration — are former employees of Monsanto and its subsidiaries and therefore conflicted in their duties to protect public interests.
‘Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food, our interest is selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job’, stated Monsanto’s Director of Corporate Communication in a 1998 New York Times article.
Globally, there are 42 million hectares of genetically modified crops in the world today — up from four million in 1994. Seventy-two percent of these are in the United States. Most corn- and soybean-based products consumed by people in the US are genetically modified, but consumers have no way of distinguishing them because they are not labelled.
Japan, Europe and Australia require labelling of GMOs for consumers ’however, a lack of labelling of these products in America not only means consumers cannot make informed food choices, but that adverse health reactions are untraceable to GMOs, therefore companies are unaccountable for their products. Japanese trade officials say they will watch the health of American children over the next 10 years for evidence to the safety of GMOs.
‘We have a conspiracy of violence against people,’ said Garcia. ‘This issue has been under the radar, but no more. It is a political issue that crosses species boundaries.’
The film’s patient detailing and unravelling of the GMO issue has thrown fuel on the fire of the fast-growing movement to resurrect local, organic food systems. It ends on the upbeat note that communities around the globe are successfully recreating and reinventing food systems that preserve local seed, biodiversity, and connect farmers directly to people. Since the film’s international debut over the past year at film festivals and eco-farming conferences, it has been translated into multiple languages, including Hindi and African dialects.
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