“We’re all part of a large, uncontrolled experiment,” says a genial elderly doctor, one of the many physicians and scientists who discuss the dangers of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in the 2012 documentary, Genetic Roulette.

The film, directed and produced by consumer advocate Jeffrey M. Smith, is based on his 2007 book of the same name.  It describes the way GMO food plants, plants which have been genetically altered when DNA has been extracted from another species and injected into its DNA, are “new organisms that were not part of the evolutionary process.”  The film argues that the human body has a profoundly inflammatory reaction to the unfamiliar components in GMO food and suggests that this is a major contributor to the skyrocketing rates of heart disease, kidney disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and cancer – and many other serious afflictions – in our country.

Genetic Roulette will be presented as part of Salem’s Progressive Film Series on February 14.  After the showing, three speakers will engage with the audience; Ken Roseboro who publishes The Non-GMO Sourcebook, George Kimbrell, senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety’s office in Portland and Kim Goodwin, director of Oregonians for Farm and Food Rights.

The film suggests that hundreds of cases of serious illness in children and adults around the world have been linked to GMO food.  South African farmers growing GMO cotton have died, buffalo in India have died, and in the States there has been an epidemic of autistic children.

The sheer bulk of incidences arguing a ‘link’ is compelling, though it may be frustrating for viewers who value the scientific method to find the film presents no controlled studies that show the connection as hard data.  A multitude of scientists are concerned, and discuss the issue with examples, but critical viewers will notice that the connection is usually anecdotal, circumstantial or by inference.

The filmmaker suggests this lack of hard supporting evidence is because the vast majority of studies have been conducted by the powerful biotech industry itself rather than by independent agencies, and that the Federal Department of Agriculture (FDA) which oversees the matter, is run by “a Monsanto man.”  The FDA hasn’t required impartial testing, the film says, and has allowed the industry to essentially regulate itself without oversight.

Genetic Roulette describes cases of researchers who’ve found incriminating results being hounded by government and biotech interests, in particular Arpad Pusztai, a respected Hungarian biochemist who was fired and censured after his research showed that feeding genetically modified potatoes to rats compromised their immune systems.

It may be a shortcoming of Genetic Roulette that the FDA is never given opportunity to present much of an official position.

Viewers curious about the topic will find Genetic Roulette an introduction to genetically engineered food that takes a definite, anti-GMO position from first frame to the last.  It is not a balanced film and not without flaw; outright inaccuracies are presented unchallenged, such as “25, 30, 35 years ago no one was allergic to anything.” It even suggests that the lifetime births per American women, which has fallen for a multitude of reasons, is proof of a decline in fertility – and links this with consumption of GE crops.

Genetic Roulette is at its best when it presets information like how 44,000 pages of findings by FDA scientists who had found, among other things, that there could be a link between GMO foods to health problems, were hidden for six years.  When the documents were released in 1998, the FDA did not pursue them.

The film may be a wake-up call to some and pure bluster to others, but it’s a compelling introduction to an issue that will be important for decades to come.


Genenic Roulette

Salem Progressive Film Series
Febuary 14,  7pm
Grand Theatre
191 High Street Downtown Salem