The Future of Food

For the most part, Americans accept genetically modified (GM) foods as safe and edible. In Europe, there are protests and calls for further study into their safety. Many US companies portray this as European efforts to protect their own farm industry (they do have an absurd number of subsidies), but there is something odd about what seems like a fundamental difference in how they think of GM food versus how Americans think of it. Deborah Koons Garcia's (wife of the late Jerry Garcia) documentary The Future of Food is an interesting primer on how science has been changing the food eaten by the world, and possible consequences of these changes. Although it is clearly against GM food, The Future of Food takes a surprisingly calm tone in leveling its arguments, something usually lost in typical anti-GM rhetoric.

Garcia attacks the issue from many angles, successfully taking much of the wind out of the various pro-GM arguments. At the very least, she wants more studies done on GM food, their current safety and their long-term effects, and greater oversight and input into government legislation. This is certainly a reasonable request, but apparently not the case at this point in time. The anti-corporation sentiment creeps out a tad, as well as an expected section on the benefits of organic farming. The documentary talks about the effect of large companies like Monsanto (making its second bad PR appearance - see The Corporation), who sue the pants off of farmers and give large contributions to politicians, effectively buying them. Companies like Monsanto are increasingly turning to patents to get a stranglehold on various types of seed. The Future of Food takes a particular look at Monsanto's Roundup Ready Canola seed, and their litigious efforts in Canada. Courts ruled that if Roundup seed was found in a farmer's crop, they were in violation of Monsanto's patent regardless of how the seed found its way there.

The film takes a step back and looks at diversity. From an evolutionary standpoint, diversity is beneficial, because good traits will stay in the population due to natural selection. One can say that farmers were using a more natural process of genetic engineering when they selectively grew crops with qualities they wanted, or then they crossbred crops for similar purposes. Over the course of the last century, the amount of diversity in the varieties of fruits and vegetables plummeted. This is bad because the loss of biodiversity is a loss of history, and worse, if insects develop resistance, it could be catastrophic. Garcia argues that by patenting crops and seed, if a pest were to become resistant to Roundup, there would be no alternatives.

More chilling is the use of suicide genes to have crops kill themselves after one planting. If these crops were to mix with the crops of subsistence farmers, the results would be disastrous. Garcia also examines the closeness between politicians and corporate entities. This has allowed corporations to patent seed, and allowed the courts to rule often in their favor. Garcia also touches upon the fundamental shift in farming. The family farm, especially in the United States, is no more. Instead, an increasingly small number of companies are controlling the worldwide output of seed. Garcia argues that this is bad, and that the best thing to do is support locally grown organic food that tastes better and is more nutritious. Of course companies again tried to change the definition of 'organic' so they could brand their food as such. As The Future of Food shifts toward the end, Garcia moves towards alternatives to the status quo, but the film is a little too gung-ho for organic farming. It does end on a happy note, but this blunts the power of her well researched, methodical, and insistent arguments that build slowly from the beginning.

Gerf Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 29 minutes, Not Rated but would probably be a PG.

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