Jeremy Seifert’s film “GMO OMG” is a screed denying the established safety of genetically modified crops in the form of a somewhat amateurish hippy home movie, as he and his overused cute children appear to take a road trip to “find out more about GMOs.” It drags out all the tired epithets regarding GM food when the safety of all such foods is completely settled science.
While at the outset he pretends to be trying to learn the truth about a technology he is trying to understand, it is pretty clear from about the third minute of the film that he has made up his mind that genetically modified crops are dangerous and not to be fed to his young children.
He correctly explains that most of the transgenic crops are either pesticide producers (with genes that express Bt ) or herbicide resistant and that these genes come from other plants and are inserted into the transgenic plants, but never mentions all the research on their safety.
He then tries to tell us that most transgenic crop studies are only 3 months long, are sponsored by the seed companies and are not peer reviewed. Here is a list of 600 peer-reviewed studies, and over 125 of those are independently funded. In addition, the European commission has published “A Decade of EU sponsored GMO Research.” Many of these studies are significantly longer than 3 months. Flachowsky’s 10 generation quail study is notable in this regard.
His first visit is to Haiti to find out why they rejected Monsanto’s gift of $4 million worth of seeds after the 2010 earthquake. Despite some activist statements to the contrary, these were not GM seeds, but conventional seeds. So his restaged burning of a couple of cups of seeds in a parking lot, and a restaged demonstration (using 4 people) were not relevant to the film’s topic. Further, while there was some criticism about the seeds being treated with fungicides, the Haiti Agriculture Ministry noted that these fungicides were in common use in Haiti.
He then makes some silly plastic goggles for his children telling them they can see if plants are GM using these goggles. He doesn’t follow through with this absurd premise however, since it argues against his position that GM crops are harmful to human health. Of course they can’t see any differences because there aren’t any.
He even suggests that his children shouldn’t eat ice cream from an ice cream truck because of the GM content, which he doesn’t actually explain. Could it be the milk? About 17% of dairy farmers use rBGH to enhance cow’s milk productivity, but it has been shown that such milk is identical in every aspect. Does he mean the sugar? About 90% of US sugar beets are Roundup resistant, but sugar is a pure compound, and it simply doesn’t matter what plant it is extracted from: it is still sugar.
He interviews a seed dealer and both a conventional and an organic farmer, and let their views speak for themselves. These were the most interesting interviews in the film. The seed dealer indicates that you need about 3000 acres to farm successfully given the small profit margins in agriculture, and he bemoans the loss of small farms. He also notes that yields have increased markedly with GM seeds.
The conventional farmer talks of the need for GM seeds to feed the world, as organic agriculture had too low a yield. The organic farmer represents the Rodale institute who claims that their 30 year study shows that organic farming outperforms conventional farming. And while this would be good news, Rodale has never published the study results in peer-reviewed journals, only as a glossy brochure.
Of course, we have to hear that “Monsanto has sued hundreds of farmers and bullied thousands more” without any proof. In fact, since 1997, Monsanto has sued only 145 farmers for planting unlicensed seeds, and settled 134 out of court. They donated those settlements to charity. They have never sued for accidental cross-pollination or bullied farmers in any way. Farmers can buy any seeds (and herbicides) they want to.
Probably the most outrageous scene in the film is when Seifert dresses himself and his two small children in Hazmat suits with respirators so they can play in the corn rows of GM corn. The smaller one comes out of the suit crying with exhaustion and wanting water.
Seifert claims that his son became interested in the Seed Savers Exchange and saving seeds. They visit the exchange in a genuinely interesting segment, but their point is that you can’t save GM seed because of the license agreement. Of course if his son were growing F1 hybrid corn, saving the seeds would be pointless because they don’t breed true. Farmers, in fact, have not saved seeds for many years because they grow a lot of hybrid seeds, and even for ones that are not, this is not a good use of their time.
We also hear the canard that 90% of crop varieties have vanished, but this is simply a fairy tale. What had vanished is the fact that the same seeds were catalogued under 4 or 5 different names. And virtually all known seeds are available in the Seed Savers Exchange or in the Norwegian seed bank in Svalbard. The film also visits Svalbard briefly and shows boxes of seeds from nearly every country. Use of music by Arvo Part in this segment is a rather clever touch.
In a shot at the White House, he shows Michelle Obama’s kitchen garden and praises it (while wearing a Pioneer seed cap!), but then says outrageously that inside the White House, they are promoting “chemical food,” whatever that means, and that no one knows the risks of that food. This insults everyone by suggesting that all the scientists in the FDA and USDA have no idea what they are doing and that all the hundreds of research papers in these areas have not been understood.
We hear from Andrew Kimbrell of the Center for Food Safety, who suggests without any proof at all that GM crops cause new allergies, new toxicities, lower immune response and lower nutritional value. Of course GM foods have been consumed for over 20 years without effects of any kind.
Noted Cassandra of the anti-GM food movement Vandana Shiva is trotted out to decry GM crops as “debt creating seeds,” “destroying biodiversity,” even though Shiva has no scientific training. Her PhD is in the Philosophy of Science.
We also see nonsensical text going by quickly replaying discredited accusations that GMO crops are responsible for declining bee colonies and farmer suicides in India. Visiting Sequoia National Park he fatuously suggests that “they” might modify the sequoias to grow faster. Considering that these trees are over 2000 years old, this is preposterous on the face of it.
He catches a rainbow trout and then visits the fish hatchery where the young trout are grown. Discovering that the hatchling’s food pellets are “not organic” and that the corn in them might be GM, he suggests that all of the trout are thus GM, which is as preposterous as his sequoia comment.
Of course, he has to interview the infamous Giles-Eric Seralini, author of the most discredited anti-GM paper of all time, and even includes film clips from Seralini’s rat film, showing that if you over-feed Sprague-Dawley rats for two years they are known to develop tumors. Rather than euthanizing the poor suffering rats, he allows them to grow until the tumors are nearly the size of the rats. Seifert does mention some of the criticisms of Seralini’s work, but gives Seralini the last word. Seralini has been criticized for not releasing his raw data, but counters that Monsanto never did either. He is wrong: here is Monsanto’s raw data.
It is disappointing that Seralini is the only scientist Seifert talks with. The film would be a lot stronger with some actual science in it.
Every major scientific organization in the world has issued statements indicating that GM crops pose no harm, but Seifert apparently knows nothing of this, and has made a tedious, over-long and mendacious propaganda home movie featuring far too many shots of his children and no science whatever.
It is not surprising that this film was sponsored by the organic food industry since it is entirely their views that we see represented.
Originally published on Examiner.com on September 30, 2013