GMOs: The Movie
04 Sep, 2011
Many users of natural products know something about GMOs—genetically modified organisms. But because mainstream media has refused to cover the subject, GMOs continue to be in mainstream food products and Americans, unaware of the dangers they present, go on consuming them as part of their diets.
Filmmaker Jeremy Seifert, currently in progress on an as-yet-unnamed documentary on GMOs, wasn’t particularly aware of them either—and it was a coincidental visit to Haiti, of all places, that ended up tipping him off.
“I had been to Haiti about a month before the [January 2010] earthquake, working as an assistant on a film, mainly shooting footage in Cité Soleil in Port-au-Prince—really rough slums,” Seifert told Organic Connections. “When the earthquake happened it was devastating, since I had just been there. The place felt like a disaster zone before the earthquake; afterwards I just couldn’t imagine how horrific it was and how painful it must have been.”
It wasn’t long after the earthquake that Seifert read a short online article that caught his attention. In the wake of the earthquake, biotechnology giant Monsanto had offered aid to Haiti in the form of 475 tons of GMO seeds. In response, 10,000 Haitian peasants marched in the streets and stated that if Monsanto did give the seeds to them, the peasants would burn them.
“This article really captured my imagination,” Seifert said. “At the time I didn’t know that much about GMOs. I knew they existed and knew a little bit about what they were, but I didn’t actually understand them and didn’t know how ubiquitous they were in the food we’re eating. So the question was, why would poor hungry farmers burn seeds? So I wrote an e-mail to the Peasant Movement of Papaye, Haiti, saying that I loved what they were doing and wanted to come down and find out why they were doing this. I started a correspondence with Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, who actually lives in Brooklyn but has been the leader of the Peasant Movement of Papaye for 20 years or so.
At that point, Seifert decided he was going to make a film, and his trip to Haiti would be the beginning and would inform the rest of the film. “We worked it out to go down there, and spent 10 days mainly on a little organic farm and training center in Papaye with Chavannes Jean-Baptiste. I just really wanted to sit with them and hear why they would burn seeds and refuse this gift from Monsanto. What they told me is that their food sovereignty and their food culture would be at risk if they let Monsanto in. If they didn’t save their own indigenous seeds for the native plants and develop those further, then they would become beholden to Monsanto and have to buy their seeds year after year. Their public demonstration was really informative and awakened me in a whole new way to the issue.”
When Seifert returned home, he decided to make an experiment. He took his camera around Los Angeles to find out how aware Americans, in fact, were of GMOs—and a small sampling can be found in the footage posted on his website.
“You come back to the United States and you see either quiet empty streets or just business going on as usual—while everyone is stuffing genetically modified food into their mouths,” Seifert continued. “I have been discovering that there is almost no public awareness of GMOs. Of course there is the very small percentage of people in this country who shop at farmers’ markets and read Michael Pollan, and those on the frontline of food and sustainable agriculture, but that really is a small handful of individuals.
“And even interviewing people who do go to farmers’ markets, there’s still at least 80 percent of those who say, ‘What GMO? What’s that? Oh, it’s genetically modified food, yeah. I try to avoid fast food.’ And although most fast food is derived from genetically modified products, that seems to be the total understanding of what genetically modified means. They don’t have the true understanding of what it is and the fact that it’s in almost everything we eat; you can go to a nicer restaurant and you’re still eating genetically modified food or food that’s derived from genetically modified product.”
Seifert felt it was important to show the upside of the fight against GMOs, so a considerable amount of time in the production of his film has been devoted to it. Positive coverage became the focus of a cross-country trip he recently made as part of production. “We ended up interviewing quite a few people who are doing great work in this,” said Seifert. “We went to Seed Savers Exchange, an heirloom seed saving project in Decorah, Iowa, and interviewed co-founder Diane Whealy. If you’re talking about GMOs, the positive energy and the positive focus needs to be on biodiversity and developing those seed collections. Biodiversity is at risk from genetically modified organisms and from industrial agriculture, so Seed Savers Exchange for me was a really important place to go.”
On this same trip, Seifert interviewed leading GMO activist and author Jeffrey Smith; Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who has put forth three anti-GMO bills; Tim and Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association; and sustainable agriculture pioneer Fred Kirschenmann of the Leopold Center and Stone Barns Center in New York.
The future for Seifert’s film is not yet cast in stone, but one thing Seifert would like to cover is a crucial seedbank in Norway. “A big trip for me that I’ve been planning is to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway,” Seifert said. “It was started by Cary Fowler and has been called the ‘doomsday vault,’ which he really doesn’t like because he sees it as a very positive thing; there would essentially be backups to the seeds of the world. Visually it’s an extremely interesting place, way up in the north, icy cold to keep the temperature down to preserve the seeds longer.
“For the film, the seed vault will serve to point up why a place like that needs to exist. What’s at stake is more precious than gold or diamonds. These seeds are the reason we are alive, and their biodiversity is the reason we are alive. This is what we should all be valuing, not gold and diamonds, which comparatively are essentially meaningless.”
We will be tracking and reporting on Seifert’s progress and are looking forward to an eye-opening documentary!
To learn more, visit http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1315201716/gmo-film-project-untitled.