Film takes scientific approach to GMOs

When it comes to genetically modified foods, it’s not easy to change minds. In fact, it might be easier to convince a Saskatchewan Roughriders fan to cheer for the Toronto Argonauts.

Nonetheless, proponents of GM food are hopeful that a movie will succeed where science and evidence have failed.

The movie is called Food Evolution and the film, as described on its website, explores the controversy surrounding genetically modified organisms and food.

The narrator, Neil deGrasse Tyson, leads viewers through the “emotions and the science driving one of the most heated arguments of our time.”

For the last 10 months, the documentary has been screened across the U.S. and in multiple countries around the world. It’s mostly been shown at film festivals, universities and at theatres that air non-Hollywood movies.

In Canada, it’s been shown at theatres and events in Toronto, Montreal, Saskatoon and a few other cities. This month, on Jan. 16, Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo plans to screen the movie.

“The movie is very good at looking at all sides of the debate about GMOs,” said Robert Wager, a member of the biology department at the university and a well-known defender of the safety and science around GM foods.

Wager organized the screening, which will feature a question and answer session with Kevin Folta, of the University of Florida, and Nina Federoff from Penn State.

Since GM soy, corn, canola and cotton became commonplace, more than 20 years ago, biologists like Wager have tried to share the facts of GM foods with the public.

However, public polling shows a huge gap exists between what scientists think and what the average citizen thinks about GM food.

A 2015 Pew Research survey found that 88 percent of scientists believe GM foods are safe, but only 37 percent of public respondents agree.

It’s become clear to many scientists that the standard arguments for GM foods are not working.

“It’s very true that science communication with the public in this area has been less than totally successful,” Wager said from Nanaimo.

“Without a doubt, new methods and new platforms and approaches are definitely welcome to help the public understand the realities of this technology.”

Wager said Food Evolution deals with the scientific facts of GM food but it also has an emotional component.

“It is one of the most powerful documentaries that you’re ever going to see.”

Some critics have called it a pro-GMO movie. Others have said the film presents both sides of the debate.

“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,” noted a review in the New York Times.

So far, only a small number of people have viewed Food Evolution because it wasn’t shown in mainstream theatres and it isn’t available on home entertainment channels.

Advocates of the film are hoping to change that.

There is an online petition urging Netflix to carry the documentary.

“(It) is unfortunate because they (Netflix) air a great many of the anti-GMO films,” Wager said.

Right now Food Evolution is available on iTunes, Amazon, Hulu and YouTube.

Wager is hoping that DVDs will soon be available at public libraries and it will be shown at high schools across Canada.

Food Evolution was commissioned and funded by The Institute of Food Technologists, an organization that champions a “world where science and innovation are universally accepted as essential to a safe, nutritious and sustainable food supply.”

The Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS) will host a free screening of Food Evolution in Regina on Tuesday February 13. The movie will be shown at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum starting at 5:30.

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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