Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Saying No to GMOs

You may have seen the tongue-in-cheek commercials for Hulu, the internet website where you can watch as much tv as your little heart can handle. They'll "turn your chunky gray matter into creamy goo matter" with so much TV they say, in an "evil plot to destroy the world." These ads, of course, strike preemptively at critics who might say that television rots your brain, and that collecting so much of it on line would do so even faster. Whichever side you fall on in that debate, I'd argue it's worth paying the website a visit; right now on Hulu you can watch the full-length documentary, The Future of Food, absolutely free of charge. Somehow I missed the release of this film in 2004, but its arguments about genetically engineered products are no less relevant today, and I was thoroughly delighted to discover it amidst countless episodes of Family Guy and Top Chef.

Although it gets off to a bit of a slow start, The Future of Food centers around one compelling question: what does it mean for the future of our food supply, indeed the future humanity, that we've allowed corporations to place patents on life? The film offers a view of genetic engineering in our food system that is both broad and deep. It covers the threat that huge monocultures pose to our food security, as well as the actual and potential consequences of pesticide resistance and antibiotic resistance in GE crops. Not to mention the vast unknowns related to how consumption of these products affects human health. And, as in Food, Inc., there are stories of individual farmers who've been sued by Monsanto, for the accidental but inevitable cross-pollination of patented seed into the fields that they've been farming for decades. The film also examines the international consequences of the choices that the United States is making regarding GE crops, including the contamination of many heirloom varieties of corn in Mexico, varieties that aren't just part of that country's food supply, but of its cultural heritage.

The web of potential consequences is more than a little anxiety provoking, and perhaps most frightening of all is the existence of "terminator technology," or "suicide genes," about a dozen of which had already been patented when the film was made. These genes ensure that, after one growth cycle, a plant will essentially self-destruct, rendering its seed sterile and unusable for any future planting. For such genes to cross-contaminate with crops here and around the world would be devastating in ways we can't begin to imagine. As one researcher stated in the film, we run the risk of surrounding ourselves with "green desserts," wherein everything looks the same, but is being transformed from the inside, and could be wiped out at any moment.

Thankfully, the film ends with a reminder that, just as there has been a revolution in the industrialization of our food supply, there is a rapidly growing counter-revolution in the form of CSAs, organic and family farming, and many other ways in which consumers are choosing sustainable, planet-friendly food sources. In addition to speaking with our wallets, there are many ways that we can and should get involved to stop the unregulated, untested spread of genetically engineered crops into our food supply. One of the most important changes that needs to take place is a labeling system that lets consumers know when a product is genetically engineered or contains GE ingredients; after all, if we don't know where GE products are, we can't choose not to buy them. For a comprehensive list of organizations working on these issues, visit the "Get Involved" section of the film's website. Whether you donate to an activist group, volunteer for one in your community, sign an internet petition, or write to Congress, it's more important than ever to make our voices heard on this issue. The future of our food supply depends on it.

To watch The Future of Food on Hulu, click here.

Photo courtesy of Jaako, Flickr Creative Commons

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