Consumed the Movie: a misinformed anti-GMO thriller

Consumed the Movie: a misinformed anti-GMO thriller

Consumed, a film by Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones stars Lister-Jones as a single mom barely holding it together as she tries find out why her son has developed mysterious symptoms. Needless to say, the cause turns out to be “GMOs” even though not a single verifiable instance of any human or animal reaction to transgenic crops has ever been reported. The film contains every single anti-GMO trope you have ever heard, all of them wrong.

The film begins in the dark at Danny Glover’s organic vegetable farm, as he sees people, cars and lights surrounding his fields. The story eventually develops that he is being investigated by Clonestra, the film’s transparent stand-in for Monsanto for planting unlicensed GMO seeds. This is hard to believe because Glover has been an organic farmer for years and has had his “organic certification” for 30 years. This is amusing, because the National Organic Program didn’t start until the year 2000.

The scene shifts to Sophie (Lister-Jones) waiting for her son outside his school, where she meets the hunky and charming Eddie (Taylor Kinney) who has a son about the same age, and who also appears to be a single parent. Sophie’s son Garrett (Nick Bonn) comes out looking and feeling droopy, and Sophie rushes him home to the house she shares with her mother Kristin (Beth Grant). Garrett gets worse and vomits in the night.

The scene shifts to India where Dan Conway (Victor Garber), the silver haired head of Clonestra is giving Indian farmers seeds to a new drought-tolerant variety of corn, along with “discount coupons” to purchase seed in future years. He and his entourage are chased off by some protesting farmers.

Concerned that Garrett may have developed a new virulent strain of the flu, Sophie rushes him to the doctor who reassures her, but strangely makes no mention of the advisability of flu shots, a typical prejudice of anti-GMO activists.

However, Garrett soon develops a red itchy rash all over his arms and torso, and neither her pediatrician nor a dermatologist can diagnose it. This leads to the rest of the story where Sophie desperately tries to find a cause and is involved in one crushing problem after another.

Sophie somehow gets the idea (this plot is really complicated) that her son may be allergic to “GMOs” and spend some time researching this possibility. Her mother works as a secretary to the head of the university’s “science department,” (apparently they only do one science there) and she arranges to talk with him about her fears. He is quite reassuring and tells of transgenic crop successes in preventing starvation.

In the anteroom, which also appears to be a small biotech lab, Sophie also meets Jacob (Anthony Edwards) and Serge Negani (Kunal Nayyar), his Indian colleague. Lurking in the background is Peter (Griffin Dunne) who overhears Sophie’s worries about her son and meets her secretively in the parking lot, saying that he is a scientist and there must be files somewhere showing the bad effects that Sophie thinks her son is experiencing. Sophie leaves her son with Eddie one afternoon and she and Peter sneak into the university science department (where it now seems to be night) using her mom’s keys. The files are missing and they are caught. It turns out that Peter is not a scientist, but the janitor. Sophie finds old news articles showing that Peter once was a scientist there, but had a nervous breakdown while “researching GMOs.” This whole episode seems pretty pointless and could have been excised.

Cut to the university biotech lab, where Connelly is giving what seem to be cash rewards to Jacob and Serge for their research on biotech chickens. It seems that all the biotech research Clonestra uses has been done under contract by the university science department rather than within the company. They said they used to get their funding from the FDA (really?) but now they get it all from Clonestra (not believable).

He later tells them their grant is terminated, their job is done and thank you very much, and that Clonestra owns all the patents. (What university development office would have agreed to this?)  Jacob goes home, asking Negani to see that the chicken cages are clean before he leaves so that they can turn them over to Clonestra in good shape.

Negani finds that all the chickens are dead, and begins searching Jacob’s computer for any information. He finds a great deal of incriminating information about the dangers of this project, duplicates it and carries it out to his car. He calls Sophie, realizing that this may be the answer to her concerns, although how development of unreleased biotech chickens has anything to do with GM corn is not explained. Sophie, fearing retribution, refuses to talk to him.

Determined to get the information to Sophie he sets out to drive it to her house. However, Eddie is shown drinking longnecks outside a bar with a couple of construction workers. Eddie goes inside and the two workers leave and chase Negani, bumping into his car and trying to force him off the road. In an accident, he is killed.

Learning of the accident, Sophie goes to see Negani’s wife, who tells Sophie that Negani’s father was a farmer in India who was growing GM corn, which gradually became less productive and too expensive, and he and a group of farmers committed suicide by drinking insecticide. While there are many things wrong with the thesis of this movie, this one is particularly offensive, because while there were Indian farmer suicides related to debt, they began taking place long before Bt cotton was introduced and decreased as they began to profit from the significant increase in productivity of the Bt cotton. There is no GM corn grown in India yet.

Sophie retrieves the incriminating papers from Nagani’s car just as it is about to be crushed, and crashes a press conference with Eddie’s help (did we mention he secretly works for Clonestra?), confronts Conway with the evidence, which had been kept from him. The biotech chickens are announced, but Conway resigns from Clonestra right after the press conference.

Our review

The movie ends with a somewhat heavy handed insistence that GM crops be labeled. No kidding. All that expense and all of Sophie’s misery and the death of both Danny Glover (heart attack) and Negani (car accident) for that? Oh, and Sophie’s mother spent several days in the hospital in a diabetic coma because she had ice cream with Garrett. Come on! Enough misery!

Wein describes his film as a “political thriller,” but “science fiction” might be a better label. The trouble is that good science fiction starts with actual science and extends it plausibly. This movie starts with bad science fears and continually hits you over the head with them. There has never been any reported evidence of any ill effect on humans or animals by any biotech crop.

The idea that ”GMOs” are an ingredient rather than a breeding technique pervades the movie. And the mantra that there have “never been any human tests” repeats several times. Foods are never tested on humans, (as Katiraee explains) because you cannot control a human diet the way you can control lab animals’ diets. The films also claims that there are only 90 day studies done and no long term studies have been done.  This contradicts the well-known study by Snell and Bernheim, which did review many long term studies and concluded the 90-day studies were indeed sufficient. And, of course, van Eenenaam and Young’s billion animal retrospective feeding study clearly show that there are no long term effects on using GM versus non-GM animals feeds.

Probably the most implausible part of the movie’s thesis is that only one child is affected with whatever this rash is (at the last moment Eddie’s boy gets it too). If this were a real problem we would expect hundreds of thousands of such cases, not just two. The rash is never diagnosed nor cured: that plot point which launches the story is left hanging. Probably because it has nothing to do with GM chickens, which haven’t been released yet anyway.

The idea that a company would knowingly be releasing products that would kill their customers is preposterous, and a bad business model. Now in the original Michael Keaton/Jack Nicholson Batman, the Joker did release a product that killed customers, but he was a homicidal maniac, not a biotech company seeking to make a profit by selling better seeds. (Here’s a clip from that great Batman movie.)

In a peculiar analogy, Sophie mentions that tobacco was known to cause cancer in the 1950s but warning labels didn’t appear for 50 years. Drawing analogies to biotech, she supposes it will be 2040 before biotech foods are labeled. We discussed this crazy theory before, but the difference is that biotech crops are not known to have ill effects and in fact are the most heavily tested foodstuffs on the planet, with each new crop undergoing 10-11 years of testing before receiving approval.

While Danny Glover dies of a heart attack after learning that Clonestra will be suing him for growing unlicensed crops because of pollen drift, this has never happened and the real Clonestra, Monsanto has sworn in court that they will never do this. And such drift does not affect organic certification in any case.

While the film is gripping in many ways, it is essentially a fraud because it is based on popular misinformation that the writers have done nothing to fact check. This may be why the film has never found a  distributor: it is shown in various theaters around the US in presold private screenings to already convinced activists, who for the most part probably have not looked into the science either.

As reported by Klumper and Qaim, GM crops have increased crop yields by 21%, decreased pesticide use by 37% and increased profits by 69%. This is the real news the filmmakers should have pointed out. Labeling foods bred by one technique but nutritionally identical makes even less sense than this movie.

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42 thoughts on “Consumed the Movie: a misinformed anti-GMO thriller

  1. WHAT..!! you say a company would never release a product that would/could kill their customers..?? just look at the cigarette companys…back in the 50`s doctors endorsed cigarettes on TV ad`s….. ive read the above summary of the movie and watched it and it is nonsense to say these things….”a company would never release a product that could kill.etc.etc” …think its time for some coffee and to wakeup….maybe even do some real research..??

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  2. Lol, criticizing a movie for bad science then ending the article with a display of complete ignorance of science. Good job. The author really needs to accept the fact of evolution and gain some scientific literacy.

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    1. I, for one obviously, appreciate the scientific papers and links provided! There are so many “conspiracy theories” these days, that I’m 100% sure I don’t know WHAT to believe to be the truth about our food. I’m amazed that people who trust the “USDA Organic” seal don’t trust the USDA (US Dept. of Agriculture) in making sure our food is safe to eat. Can we do better? All humans can, and systems of government are certainly too big to not make grave mistakes at times. But I am thankful we have people looking out for our food supplies and for those who will swim upstream to try to get the truth out there about our food. I am sure there are millions in this world who would love to walk into one of our grocery stores to buy some of the delicious, beautiful food we are privileged to eat.

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  3. Ironic that the author of the article criticizes the fictional movie for not being 100% accurate (it’s called fiction, it’s not intended to be a documentary), the concludes the article with a massive display of scientific illiteracy. Good job.

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  4. Wow…A consumed movie discussion in a consumed movie where we are all the movie characters and this crappy writer is Pro-GMO just like the GMO cops in the actual movie? If Monsanto is so right, why is it forcing farmers to give up organic farming and suing them? I think whatever they have shown in the movie are facts, because you can see them happening right in front of you in real life!!

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  5. The Real isse about GMO is the kind of modifikation made. Repeating an already pressent gen is probably not a problem, but introduktion of new genes May be.

    Im also speculating why these companies don’t want to advertise their products. If they are as good as they claim, I would expect them to write in capital letters “Now with GMO” on every product containing it

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      1. Still there is no harm in putting genetically modified process on the label if it’s really no big deal. Consumer who are pro gmo will buy who are not wont buy. It’s that simple.

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      2. No, this is not the case. “GMOs” are not an ingredient but a process, and thus the food does not contain anything to be labeled.
        Further, such a label does not give any useful information about which components and which traits were Used.
        Activist Jeffrey Smith has admitted that “Labeling was never a goal for us.” https://foodscienceinstitute.com/2016/07/31/jeffrey-smith-admits-gmo-labeling-was-never-his-goal/
        His goal was to eliminate GMO crops from the food system, even though there has never been any evidence of harm.

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      3. James you are incorrect. GMO’s are INGREDIENTS. The process you are trying to refer to is GENETIC ENGINEERING. Genetic Engineering is the process that creates GMOs( Genetically Modified Organisms.)

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  6. If GM crops have reduced pesticides by 37%, is that because the pesticides are “built in” to the GM plant’s DNA? There is a movie about some antics pulled by ADM so it is not a stretch to think of these corporations as sociopathic. But I am open to hearing the truth.

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  7. I am no scientist, and I will say that I never really thought about GMOs until a few years ago when I developed an unknown and uncomfortable reaction to gluten. The weird thing is that on a recent trip to Italy, I was able to partake in bread without a reaction. I was careful to only eat non-GMO bread, as it is the norm and also labeled. I did not have an adverse reaction. Hmmm. Again I am no scientist, but my body told me the story. I’m sharing this because, regardless of whether or not you liked the movie, there has got to be some credibility in the fact that many Americans are suffering from this diet of Frankenfood. However, this is The U. S. , so do what you will, but at least inform your consumers.

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      1. Forget the nutrition value it has…. let’s focus on the adverse effects. What good is nutrition in the food if the fact that it is GM & going to make you sick anyway.

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  8. First of all, if you stay away from gluten long enough you can once again tolerate it in amounts. If you eat bread every day again, you could find you become intollerant again. Another factor in his tolerating bread in italy is based on what product he bought, was it hand made or from a store full of processed ingredients etc. Yes, there can be “nutritional differences” when you take into account bleaching of wheat, additives, preservatives and the other junk in a loaf of bread that has been mass marketted to include a lot of junk in its ingredients list INCLUDING other non-wheat GMO ingredients (yes GMO’s are not ingredients but ingredients can be ones that have been genetically modified). Perhaps in Italy he ate home made bread rather than store bought or processed with bleached flour, additives, preservatives, etc. Here is a link to how bread can actually contain a genetically modified ingredient even though grains themselves aren’t genetically modified. http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/grocery_shopping/processed_foods/28.gmos_bread_baked_goods.html

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    1. If you have celiac disease, you must stay away from gluten permanently, as it can damage your digestive system. If you do not, you do not need to avaoid gluten. The gmo-compass article you cite gets a lot of things wrong. Of course “GMOs” are not an ingredient but a breeding process, so avoiding crops created through such breeding is silly. But even if you believe the contrary, corn syrup is pure glucose and is indistinguishable from corn syrup from non-GM corn. Likewise, ascorbic acid is a pure compoun no matter how it is synthesized. Soybean oils are just a collection of fatty acids: there are no proteins that could be detected as genetically modified. This is just fear mongering and playing on the lack of scientific knowledge among its readers.

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  9. James – Help me understand why GMO products don’t have to be labelled. Why the resistance if there are no proven adverse effects to GMO food?

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      1. Label anything that is GM and let individuals determine how they feel and how they are affected by their choices. It’s an easy fix….but of course that’s the point….for the truth not to be known. If people have no positive response from non GM foods then it’s safe to say they will return to buying the less expensive GM products. But we all know what the outcome will be which is the reason for the fight to not have to label the GM foods!

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  10. LABEL THE GMO containing “food(s)!!!! The corporations are fighting this because they know the truth! It is all about money.!!!!!!$@# = ##=/.

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    1. Probably money is involved. But slandering a perfectly safe set of crops because of irrational fears of crops science has repeatedly shown to be safe means that the organic food industry is the one at fault here.

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      1. They labelled ‘organic’ for a reason. Why not also labeling ‘GM’? Your article is an awful spoiler, just an honest opinion as I am researching and watching. Many other countries have labelled GM in their food products. Why not in America?

        America is individualism-focused. Not unity like how our country is spelled out. We, Americans who believe in justice for all, should work together to make things that are right for us, not for the corporations. We are living the lives of corporations. You work for food science institute for a reason, sucking the institute’s . Brainwashed or just doing your job for money – a sense of individualism.

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  11. So Monsanto patents genetically modified animals? What then will it say when it modifies human genetics for whatever reason, either to help mankind or to make money? Will then our children belong to Monsanto? Not possible? Really?

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  12. The character portrayed by Danny Glover never said “30 years” in reference to how long he’s been organically certified. He simply said that he was organically certified for “years”.

    James, you are an apologist for Monsanto.

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    1. Sounded like it to me. But I speak only for science, not any particular industry. Nonetheless, the movie is full of pseudo-scientific nonsense and takes positions contrary to extablished scientific consensus to scare people with its nonsensical plot.

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    2. I can’t speak to the latter claim, but the former one is demonstrably incorrect. Timing may vary slightly from source to source, but on the Netflix copy, there is a scene where the main character visits Danny Glover at his farm and, approximately 0:33 minutes into the movie, he delivers the line “I got my organic certification 30 years ago.”

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  13. James you are incorrect. GMO’s are INGREDIENTS. The process you are trying to refer to is GENETIC ENGINEERING. Genetic Engineering is the process that creates GMOs( Genetically Modified Organisms.)

    Like

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