What’s a GMO? Are they beneficial or harmful? Should we eat them?
These are some of the questions writer and director Jeremy Seifert attempts to answer in his new documentary “GMO OMG,” playing on Thursday, October 9th as part of Salem’s Progressive Film Series.
Seifert sets out on the roads of America to learn about GMOs, and to answer these questions and more. He loads his two children into the family minivan to visit farms, seed merchants, environmentalists, and the chemical companies themselves in his quest for basic GMO knowledge. The movie is somewhat of a travelogue of agricultural America, with side trips to Haiti, Norway, and France. Featured heavily are the director himself and his two young boys, for whom he says he is doing the research.
We learn that a GMO is a Genetically Modified Organism, usually a food product like corn, rice or soy, which has been modified at the genetic level. The sophisticated transformation is performed by huge chemical companies like Monsanto, DuPont and Bayer who aim to make plants immune to herbicides and pesticides and increase crop yields in that way
GMOs are ubiquitous in America. Almost all processed foods in the country contain them. For example, corn syrup is a sweetening ingredient in huge numbers of foods Americans eat, from ice cream to soup to ketchup, and 85% of U.S. corn is grown from genetically modified seeds. Also, most meats sold in grocery stores come from animals that were fed GMO corn.
The film points out that the possible harms caused by eating GMO products remain largely unknown; the chemical companies themselves mostly author the few studies that have been done, and these companies will not release the data.
Still, because of the possible risks, over 60 countries now require the labeling of GMO foods, including the huge markets of Russia, India and China. In contrast many U.S. states have attempted to require GMO labeling, but none so far has succeeded. On November 4 Oregonians will vote on Measure 92, a ballot measure requiring labeling, so the screening of OMG GMO couldn’t be timelier.
Monsanto routinely threatens to sue states that attempt to pass such regulations, and – as Oregon voters can expect to see in upcoming weeks – agro-chemical corporations bankroll massive ad campaigns to defeat them.
While Seifert claims to just be neutrally looking for information, most of the film leans strongly against the use of GMO’s. At one point Seifert vehemently asks “Where is the outrage?” One reason for the anti-GMO slant may be that, perhaps predictably, none of the chemical companies involved would talk to the filmmaker to present their side of the story.
Interesting exceptions include farmers and seed merchants who are ambivalent about GMO technology.
GMO OMG uses voice-over narration, graphics, talking heads, and words on the screen, elements that are interspersed with bountiful footage of nature and farmland. This makes for a fairly brisk if occasionally chaotic 90 minutes.
Two experts will speak after the screening and lead a discussion with the audience. One is Scott Bates, from Oregon Right to Know, a pro-Measure-92 group. According to Bates, “Oregonians have a variety of reasons to want to know whether their foods are genetically engineered or not. This can range from their own health concerns to more general concerns because of pesticide exposure, to not wanting to support the environmental detriments that GMO crops are ravaging in this country.”
The second speaker is Ivan Mulaski, director of Friends of Family Farmers in Mollala. Mulaski represents Oregon farm interests in the debate over GMOs and says genetically modified plants threaten the stability of farmers. “GE apples, potatoes, salmon and wheat that are being approved now, or are currently being tested,” he says, “could negatively impact markets for Oregon producers of these foods.” Mulaski says that lax federal and state oversight over GE food products has negatively impacted Oregon farmers and pose a “serious economic risk” especially to the Willamette Valley’s specialty seed and fresh market vegetable industries.
Salem Progressive Film Series
Guest speakers & audience discussion follow,
Thursday, October 9, 7 p.m.
The Grand Theater
191 High St. NE, Salem