While more and more Americans are jumping on the organic cruelty-free bandwagon, the subject of GMOs -- which stands for Genetically Modified Organisms -- has gotten comparatively little attention. GMOs are what results when an organism has DNA jammed into its genetic code to cause a desired trait, from high productivity to pesticide resistance. However, there are three major problems with GMOs: 1) Not enough trials have been done to ensure their safety, 2) You're already eating tons of GMOs without even knowing it, and 3) Avoiding GMOs in America is virtually impossible. This is what director Jeremy Seifert discovered as he tried to answer the age-old question of what is safe to feed our kids, a journey he captured in his important new documentary, GMO OMG. Watch my ReThink Review of GMO OMG below (transcript following).
As a society, we're arguably more food-aware than we've ever been. We want to know if our food is local, organic, sustainably produced, free range, cruelty-free, grass-fed, pesticide-free, hormone-free -- questions that we never would've asked 15 years ago. And it seems that for each of these questions, there are a handful of documentaries extolling the virtues of more organic methods or, more commonly angering or terrifying you about what is paradoxically called "conventional" farming, which relies on outside chemicals for both nutrients and pest and weed control. However, "conventional" farming -- especially with corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and sugar beets -- now increasingly means using GMOs, genetically modified organisms that have outside DNA inserted into a plant's genetic code, which is the subject of Jeffrey Seifert's documentary GMO OMG.
The film starts with Seifert addressing a dilemma all parents today are facing: what food is safe to feed our kids? The father of three very cute kids, Seifert does his best to buy organic foods and remove potentially toxic materials from his home, but soon finds a hole in his knowledge when it comes to GMOs, which are present in virtually every processed food through ingredients derived from GMOs and in most meats since they're raised on GMO feed. But disturbingly, you'd never know this from looking at food packaging, since agrochemical companies like Monsanto, food makers, and the politicians they own have been fighting and largely defeating ballot measures to have foods with GMO ingredients clearly labeled.
There's still debate, even among some liberals, whether GMO crops are bad for you, so Seifert, first with his family and then alone, sets out on a journey to find answers. Though perhaps the two most damning things about GMOs in the entire film are how none of the companies that produce GMO seed are willing to say whether their product is safe, and all of them are fighting efforts to inform consumers if they're eating GMO food or not. To which Seifert asks the vital question we should all be asking: Why aren't these companies proud of the safety of their products?
GMO OMG is light on the science of GMOs, partially due to their complexity and that, as such a new technology, so little is known about their long-term effects on humans or the environment. However, the film makes dozens of compelling arguments for why GMOs are at the very least unneeded, since, despite what agrochemical companies say, GMOs aren't necessary to feed the world, and a 30-year study has shown that organic sustainable farming is as or more productive, pollutes less, and uses less energy than "conventional" synthetic farming.
And at their worst, GMOs are a threat to biodiversity, indigenous crops, and our autonomy, with pollen from GMO seeds infecting non-GMO crops and companies patenting seeds, either making the seeds illegal to collect or creating seeds that are only viable for a single season. There's also the fact that some GMO crops are classified as pesticides (which you then eat), and crops bred to withstand weed killers and pesticides promote more spraying of deadly chemicals that can get into our food and the environment, as well as creating herbicide- and pesticide-resistant superbugs and weeds.
GMO OMG is shot in beautiful digital HD, with a decidedly indie rock vibe and soundtrack that will inevitably be labeled hipster, but I found to be fresh and welcome. And other than some attempts at levity with extraneous scenes involving Seifert's kids, GMO OMG is a very solid introduction to the GMO issue that's sure to have new information even for those well-versed on the subject, including the huge percentage and acreage of staple crops in the US that are GMO, how GMOs skipped normal regulatory channels to be regarded as safe for consumption, and why poor Haitian farmers refused or destroyed GMO seeds Monsanto gave them.
But one thing that's sad and certain is that Americans are in a real shit state of affairs when it comes to GMOs, since there's so little known about their long-term effects, yet they're virtually impossible to avoid. I think there will be more rigorous docs on GMOs to come, but GMO OMG looks set to be the opening salvo that begins a discussion we should all be having.
GMO OMG is playing in New York and opens Friday in Los Angeles. To find out how to see GMO OMG, go here.