Food Evolution, a documentary directed by Scott Hamilton Kennedy and narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson, opens by showing the deliberations of a county council on Hawaii’s Big Island. They debate whether or not to turn the island into a GMO-free zone, and after hearing testimony from both pro-GMO scientists and anti-GMO advocates, the council eventually passed a resolution to ban GMOs. It seems that the island is well on its way to getting rid of GMOs for good until local papaya farmers get involved. The ban on GMOs would destroy their industry, as they all grow a version of the papaya that has been genetically modified to resist a ringspot virus that otherwise would have wiped out Hawaii’s papaya industry. Eventually, the ban is modified to exempt the modified papaya.
Such stories feature prominently in Food Evolution, which explores the science and real-world implications of GMOs central to the ongoing debate over whether to adopt or ban such products. Last week, SynBioBeta founder John Cumbers hosted a screening of the film at UCSF’s Mission Bay Conference Center which was followed by a panel discussion with some of the creators and stars of the film.
The film does an excellent job of providing many different viewpoints into GMOs. It also delves into the science behind GMOs, answering questions about their safety and the safety of pesticides like glyphosate that are commonly associated with GMO crops. Finally, and most importantly, the documentary shows us the impacts that GMOs have on individuals around the world and how anti-GMO sentiment in the developed world has drastic negative impacts on those in the developing world. For example, a farmer in South Africa who was interviewed was able to send his son to college thanks to the increased profitability of GMO crops. However, a Ugandan farmer lost banana trees she relies on to feed her family to disease because a disease-resistant banana tree has been banned in Uganda.
Following the screening, Scott Hamilton Kennedy and Neil deGrasse Tyson were joined on stage by UC Davis faculty members Alison Van Eenennaam and Pam Ronald, who made several appearances in the film, to answer questions from the audience. The questions ranged from technical ones about GMO safety to business questions concerning the regulation, sale, and distribution of GMO crops. Neil deGrasse Tyson provided a great summary of the movie when he was asked why he chose to get involved with this project. His answer? “The film isn’t pro-GMO, it’s pro-science.”
You may think that showing this film to the SynBioBeta network may be preaching to the choir, but before the movie began, Scott Hamilton Kennedy polled the audience. “How many here have concerns about the safety of genetically modified organisms in our food supply?” he asked with many hands up in response. When the question was repeated after the film concluded, only one hand remained – a testament to the film’s quality.
Those who wish to view the film for themselves can find it on Amazon, iTunes, Hulu, Google Play, and Youtube. It’s a must-see for anyone who is interested in learning more about genetically modified organisms.