Stacy Malkan at EcoWatch has called a new GMO film entitled ” Food Evolution, ” narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson: “A Blatant Case of Monsanto Corporate Propaganda.” Unless you’ve been living under a rock you know that there has been a considerable amount of discussion and debate regarding the safety of GMO foods. The new documentary was created by Scott Hamilton Kennedy (The Garden) Academy Award-nominated. Having it narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson has added a questionable element of trust or lack thereof. The reason is simple – the film avoids all mention of glyphosate as a probable human carcinogen. In 2015 a report by the World Health Organization’s cancer agency that classified glyphosate as probable human carcinogen or that California addedto the Prop 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer, or the peer-reviewed studies that have linked various adverse health outcomes to glyphosate and Roundup.
Malkan says that Food Evolution gives viewers the full “Monsanto science treatment” and completely avoids any science that raises concerns about the possible health risks of agrichemical products – of which Monsanto.
As Stacy Malkan writes: “That the film’s intended purpose was to serve as an industry-messaging vehicle is no secret. Food Evolution was planned in 2014 and funded by the Institute for Food Technologists, a trade group, to culminate a multi-year messaging effort.
IFT is partly funded by big food corporations, and the group’s president at the time was Janet Collins, a former DuPont and Monsanto executive who now works for CropLife America, the pesticide trade association. IFT’s president-elect Cindy Stewart works for DuPont.
IFT chose Kennedy to direct the film, but he and producer Trace Sheehan say they had complete control over the film they describe as a fully independent investigation into the topic of GMOs including all points of view. The film’s credibility suffers from their choice to embrace only the scientists who side with the chemical industry players who profit from GMOs and the chemicals used on them, while ignoring science and data that doesn’t fit that agenda.
The ‘Monsanto science treatment’
The clearest example of scientific dishonesty in Food Evolution is the way the film deals with glyphosate. The weedkiller chemical is at the heart of the GMO story, since 80-90 percent of GMO crops are genetically engineered to tolerate glyphosate.
Food Evolution reports that the increase in glyphosate use due to GMOs is not a problem, because glyphosate is safe. Two sources establish this claim in the film: A farmer says glyphosate has “very, very low toxicity; lower than coffee, lower than salt,” and Monsanto’s Robb Fraley—in response to a woman in an audience who asks him about science linking glyphosate to birth defects and cancer—tells her that’s all just “pseudoscience.”
In fairness, here is how the producers of the films.
Neil deGrasse Tyson unfold the polarizing debate surrounding the use of GMOs, separating hype from science for a fresh and provocative perspective on one of the most critical issues facing global society today. Are GMOs safe? Only 30% of the public thinks so, while a whopping 88% of scientists firmly believe GMOs are safe to consume. This creates the largest disparity in any politicized scientific poll to date. This documentary, narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson, focuses on both sides of this raging debate. We witness the conflict in Hawaii, where GMO products are temporarily banned with the exception of the rainbow papaya, a fruit that depends on genetic modification to survive. In Uganda, bananas are the country’s most important food—providing security to more than 1/3 of the population—yet the majority of the fruit faces something called “banana wilt,” a seemingly unstoppable rot that can be resisted only using GMO modification. In both environments, the arguments between concerned citizens, mothers, farmers, and scientists are heated. GMOs certainly lower the nutritional value of food but are the links to cancers, autism, and other harmful effects actually backed by science? In Food Evolution, director Scott Hamilton Kennedy uses interviews with Ugandan and Hawaiian farmers, leaders of anti-GMO organizations such as “Moms Across America,” and scientists who work with agricultural biotechnology to encourage a well-rounded discussion of genetically modified foods.
Genetic modification is simply a tool, and like all tools, it’s how you use it that matters. Cosmos host Neil deGrasse Tyson takes down the anti-GMO argument swiftly and deftly, in a way that only he can.
By Stacy Malkan