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.
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.