Do not Let Yourself Be Convinced That GMOs Are Evil
Food Evolution, a documentary aiming to clear up confusion about GMOs. Loaded with scientists and people whose careers are focused on researching and communicating about GMOs—you know, people who actually know shit—it’s a reasoned look at a controversial topic and it falls on the pro side of the issue. Whether or not you even knew this film existed, chances are you have heard something about GMOs—and that something was probably that they're bad and should be avoided. Since distrust is the flavor of the day lately, and everyone who’s ever read a meme has what they would consider an “informed opinion” about even the thorniest and most complex of questions, it makes sense that people don’t want to hear that this Big Bad Thing they’ve been told is a corporate conspiracy that will make them sick isn’t actually bad after all. But science is on the side of “Big Bad” this time, so you might want to give it a watch for yourself.
Let's take a step back for a second before we start and think about a hypothetical hotly debated topic where the science is irrefutable, yet the nonbelievers refuse to be convinced.
Imagine there was a documentary about the scientific topic for which there is known widespread scientific consensus. When it comes to this topic, about 9 out of 10 scientists surveyed agrees that the science is sound, yet many in the general public fight against them, divided largely along political and class lines. Imagine that the debate involves politics, industry, big money, scientific data, and your children's future.
Sounds a lot like climate change, does not it ?
Well, a lot of what can be said about GMOs (genetically modified organisms), too. The debates are really similar because the pushback against them has been largely emotional and ideological, while in both cases the science is sound.
I see why people may be resistant to embracing them. It's hard to believe that it's hard to believe that it's hard to believe that it's hard to believe that it's hard to understand. But any tightly held opinion deserves the chance to succeed, just as importantly, a chance to fail. A little science will go a long way for that. And that's just what this documentary provides.
You want science? Boom. This film is chock full of it.
This documentary has world renowned genetics researchers like Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam, Ph.D., and Dr. Pamela Ronald, Ph.D., who worked their way to the top of their field to make world-changing technology to improve agricultural safety and sustainability. You want to hear from people just like you? Meet Kavin Senapathy, a trusted voice in science journalism, mom, a feminist, and someone who tries to make safe, healthy, evidence based choices for her and her family. Did you want someone who fought against this tooth and nail and changed their mind? Say hello to Mark Goddamn Lynas. He actually developed the anti-GMO movement before saying "maybe I was wrong" -because in science, we look at data especially when it challenges our emotions and assumptions. And you wanted evidence from someone you can trust? Wait. Who's that? Is that Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson narrating the whole thing? Hell yes it is. Mr. Trustworthy Science himself, the guy who you quote when one of your not-too-quick-on-the-uptake friends says something like, "So why can not I see the curvature of the Earth if it's round, it's round. He's Neil Degrasse Tyson for goodness' sake: DO NOT CONTRADICT THE MAN.
You had these experts talking to you about global warming, you fucking love science when it applies to something you agree with. But science does not exist in a vacuum. For that matter, science is not really even a subject.
If you ask someone who has not taken a science class from high school to define a science, a lot of times you'll get a list of subjects. Ask a scientist, and the answer is a little different. Science is a systematic way to make observations about the world around us. So no, science does not have all the answers. "Science is how you find the answers.
Science is not one person coming to one conclusion, and then in a shadowy room somewhere (probably with cigars, right? And scotch, there's always scotch) five super evil scientists that they were going to accept based on the pile of money. If that's how it worked, I'm pretty sure nobody would have ever heard the words "climate change". And given that Monsanto brought in less money than Whole Foods last year, your assumptions about which side of the GMO debate accurate.
As our documentary’s narrator so famously noted, science is true whether or not you believe in it. So even if you’ve heard some weird shit about GMOs and you have some misgivings, you should listen to the other side. You may have used this very argument regarding climate change to try to get friends and acquaintances to see the light. Take your own advice and give GMOs the same chance already. You owe it to yourself to find out you were wrong.
Here are some of the main questions and misconceptions about GMOs that are documentary addresses with aplomb:
Are GMOs safe?
Yes -and they're tested up the wazoo. There are incredibly stringent safety standards, and these are in place of multiple agencies, including the 89 FDA, EPA, and USDA. Amongst other things, a GMO crop needs to be proven to be nutritionally equivalent to its non-GMO counterpart in order to make it to the market.
What about their impact on the environment?
If you're trying to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, one way to do that is by preserving our wetlands and forests. The more land that has to be cleared for farming, the heavier of its carbon footprint. Since farming with GMO crops increases yield compared to organic or even conventional farming, it helps to reduce the impact that farming makes on climate change. Also. You're sitting down, right? I'm going to pretend you're sitting down. In a meta-analysis, GMOs reduce pesticide use by 37 percent.
So what about Roundup?
Roundup, chemical manufacturer Monsanto's flagship herbicide, is under constant scrutiny because of claims that it can cause cancer. I used to work as a chemist in a pesticide lab. My lab never analyzed glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup), but I’m very familiar with pesticide toxicity, analysis, testing, and regulation. And here's what I have to say about Roundup: It’s seriously less goddamn toxic than table salt and it was replaced by herbicides that were about ten times more toxic (what, do you think we were growing plants wishful thinking and jade yoni eggs before?). Pesticides are getting more and more targeted (translation: bad for weeds, safer for humans). Roundup, which works on a very specific mechanism in weeds that GM crops are designed to be protected from, is part of, newer, safer batch of pesticides. It would take me all. But I hope you can be open minded to the fact that the farmers are smart and they use the Roundup because it's had a huge advancement over what they had before.
Yeah, but Monsanto is evil and so is it it does ... or something ... right?
Yep, Monsanto has a checkered past. But just yelling "Agent Orange" does not change that the company produces technology that's beholden to the same research practices that every other field of science goes through. They also go through the same regulations as every other company, university, and private institution to ensure the best of the government's ability. A lot of rumors about them are either insanely overblown or outright false. (The farmer suicides in India? That one's a myth. Ditto suing farmers for having seeds blow into their field -total myth.) As an employer , Monsanto earned a perfect score from the Human Rights Campaign. Want to learn more about what goes on at their HQ (in Missouri!)? They'll give you a tour if you ask nicely./115
But they control the global seed supply!
If you had to guess how much of the seed supply Monsanto controls, how much would you guess? Twenty-five, 50, maybe 90 percent? Nope. They are responsible for about 5 percent of the global seed supply. There are over 1,000 seed companies (genetic diversity win!), And farmers are absolutely free to purchase from any of them that they choose./117
So is this a documentary or propaganda and can I trust the fucking popcorn?
Food Evolution is a compelling documentary that respectfully gives the activists a chance to present their case while showing that science is not on their side. Is it propaganda? If it's propaganda, then Supersize Me; Food, Inc.; Fed Up; and Forks Over Knives are definitely propaganda, too. Every documentary with a point of view on some level is attempting to persuade you, but this one has the advantage of having science on its side. So go watch it with an open mind. And whatever your opinion, give it the chance to be wrong.
Yvette d'Entremont holds a B.S. in chemistry, B.A. in theatre, and a master's degree in forensic science with a concentration in biological criminalistics. She worked for eight years as an analytical chemist before her blog focused on debunking bad science, scibabe.com, turned into a full-time job in science communications. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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