By KRISS NELSON
“Food Evolution,” a documentary, brings forth the emotions and the evidence driving one of the most heated arguments of our time: GMOs.
Under the direction of Academy Award-nominated director Scott Hamilton Kennedy, “Food Evolution” features an investigation into biotechnology from Hawaiian papaya groves, to banana farms in Uganda, to the cornfields in Iowa.
The documentary was commissioned by the Institute of Food Technologies (IFT), and, according to information provided by the filmmaker, shows how easily misinformation can overwhelm objective analysis and touches on such topics including:
- Are consumers capable of applying science to emotionally charged topics?
- How do we ensure that GMOs and our food supply are safe for your health?
- Can we produce enough food to feed the world without harming the planet?
- Has genetically-engineered food and fiber increased or decreased pesticide use?
- What data, evidence and sources are we using to approach these important questions?
The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) is promoting the documentary and Randy Krotz, chief executive officer of USFRA, said they are excited to be able to share the film and try to understand how folks will receive the film.
“It was extraordinarily well-received and there was a lot of enthusiasm for us to find a way to work with Scott and his team and IFT in general to bring the film a little more push to the consumer audience,” he said. “We’re excited to be involved in it. It is a film that does change people’s minds about science, technology and agriculture.”
Krotz said what got USFRA so excited to help promote “Food Evolution” was there are so many decisions in agriculture that are made with science.
“Whether it’s how we take care of animals, grow crops, technology in seed, we were just excited to have a film like this,” he said. “It is a tremendous documentary that Scott produced, wrote and directed. We were looking for something that could be brutally honest, have folks hear who is on what side of this and have discussions occur. It is a great look back on the 20 years we have had this technology in the United States. The film does a great job of looking at the emotions of people that have issues dealing with this technology,”
Most importantly, Krotz said, it helps call out some of the fallacies that are not allowing science to be considered when consumers look at the technologies that are used in agriculture.
“The biggest piece we hear about the future population of the earth and the food supply we need to have,” he said. “Can we continue to feed the world and the growing population if we don’t have technology, or modern agriculture? If we turn the clock back and try to produce things – for instance, organic production – it would be very, very difficult and you guys all know that.”
“I think this film addresses this head on and looks at some very specific crops we don’t think about here in the U.S. and diseases and crops that aren’t here.”
Kennedy said the film wasn’t taken on to defend GMOs.
“The GMO story is really just a metaphor on how really important it is to use science to make decisions,” he said. “If we don’t use science to make good decisions, it’s the beginning of the end of an informed democracy.”
“Food Evolution,” Kennedy said, discusses issues countries like Uganda are having, where a virus wiped out 50 percent of its banana crop.
“There is a GMO fix for that, but it can’t get to farmers because of politics and the perception and we just thought ‘Wow, this is incredibly interesting, controversial and mostly, it’s not being told correctly,’ and many of my fellow documentarians have made films that have gotten the conversation wrong and many times have manipulated the conversation. So, we saw, for now, there is an important story that needed to be told here and are grateful for telling it.”
Kennedy said he has been very honored that “Food Evolution” could defend scientists and farmers in a way that hadn’t been done in film, in a long time.
He also said the response has been amazing, quoting Daniel M. Gold of The New York Times: “With a soft tone, respectful to opponents but insistent on the data, ‘Food Evolution’ posits an inconvenient truth for organic boosters to swallow: In a world desperate for safe, sustainable food, GMOs may well be a force for good.”
One of the factors Kennedy said that makes him most proud of the film is helping consumers to learn to apply science to some of those emotionally-charged topics.
“We live in a time of means of sound bytes and social media, and they sometime spread some really bad information,” he said.
Confirmation bias, Kennedy said, is a term that he was introduced to in the making of the film and described it as when “a scientist only sees evidence that supports their hypothesis instead of going through the scientific process and letting the evidence tell them were to go.”
“We all suffer through confirmation bias. People only see the evidence that support the fact that GMOs are bad,” he said. “We really learned through the process of making the film how hard it is to get past confirmation bias, but also that it is very important through the use of film and we see people really question their confirmation bias.”
So far, Kennedy said there has been an overwhelming response to the film.
“We have had an incredible response in doing polls at screenings,” he said.
He added they will poll the audience by a show of hands asking who is concerned about GMOs, the affects of them on themselves and the environment. In some cases, he said 100 percent of the audience raised their hands showing concerns.
“After showing the film, we asked again and there were zero hands in the air,” he said.
In other cases, Kennedy said “Food Evolution” is convincing about 80 to 90 percent of the people that have concerns.
“Not only are we changing the perception of GMOs, but making people think about how they made their decisions in the first place and how they are making decisions for their families,” he said, adding it is well-known there have been thousands of studies done and there are many scientific agencies around the world that have looked at the current GMOs and have said they are safe for themselves and safe for the planet.
“We went over and over again what the data says and it served us very well and kept us safe,” he said. “I feel very, very confident in the film and have seen people respond to it. They don’t only see the evidence in the film, but they feel grounded because of that evidence we presented.”
Krotz added through “Food Evolution” the USFRA is trying to communicate to consumers and bridge the gap between them and farmers and ranchers.
“GMOs have always been at one of three forefront issues that we, as an organization, have tried to address with consumers,” said Krotz. “I am confident that getting people to see this film is a core ingredient in helping them understand and change their minds and furthering their understanding of agriculture and the science behind agriculture.”
“I think that it’s imperative that we, as an industry, continue to advance technology as a whole,” he added. “We got behind this film because I saw with my own eyes seeing an audience shift their perception of GMOs – see it changing their minds and forcing them to see more information from different sources.”
Krotz said the USFRA is always looking for ways to talk about biotechnology and for the right audiences.
“This film goes directly to a consumer audience and we want to help make that happen,” he said.
The film is available on Hulu, Amazon and iTunes.
“We’re so proud of the availability of the film,” Krotz said. “We’re still doing screenings all across the country. We want agriculture to know that if you want to show the film somewhere, you can work with us to get a consumer audience in front of the film, we can help make that happen.”
He added they are working to get the film to college campuses as well.
“We’re going to target 30 or slightly more major college campuses,” he said. “We’re not going after ag schools, but we’re going after schools where this needs to be seen.”
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