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The GMO debate – what does the science say? Are we listening?

January 18, 2018

Food Evolution, a new documentary by Academy Award™-nominated director Scott Hamilton Kennedy, was screened in Toronto and Waterloo this week. The film explores the polarized debate on genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) and food, and how both pro- and anti-GMO camps claim science is on their side. The documentary, narrated by the accomplished astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, asks “How do we ensure that our food supply is safe, and that everyone has enough to eat? How do we feed the world while also protecting the planet? Has genetic engineering increased or decreased pesticide use? Are GMO foods bad for your health? And, most importantly, what data, evidence and sources are we using to approach these important questions?”

Ontario Genomics participated in the Toronto event, as did a strong showing of attendees on both sides of the debate. The film gives a thorough investigation into the many voices in this debate, with particular emphasis on the impact of the anti-GMO movement on areas of the world where food is not in abundance, where farmers want the choice to grow GMOs but are prevented from doing so by government-imposed bans influenced by a vocal anti-GMO movement. A surprising story to some was that of a genetically modified papaya developed in Hawaii that saved Hawaii’s papaya industry from ruin from a ringspot virus blight – and managed to avoid the state-wide ban on GMOs signed into law in 2013. And yet for others, GMOs are feared and avoided.

A Q&A session followed with the film’s director Scott Hamilton Kennedy, along with Carol T. Culhane, CEO of International Food Focus Ltd, Ian Affleck, Executive Director, Plant Biotechnology at CropLife Canada (Toronto), Greg Hannam, Ontario Grain Farmer (Woodrill Farms) and Motlatsi Musi, South African Farmer and author at Global Farmer Network; this was moderated by Kelly Hodgins, Program Coordinator, Feeding Nine Billion at the University of Guelph.

This Q&A session brought out the critical need for better communication – helping people understand and interpret scientific evidence, how to convey the risks and benefits of different approaches to feeding the world with the objective of building trust, how to have a better conversation between opposing sides.  It was clear from the discussion that the differences between the communities such as the organic vs. pro-GMO camps may not be as great as thought – safe, healthy food is the common driver.

South African farmer Motlatsi Musi is pro-GMO. He has been able to raise a family and send his son to university by farming with GMO corn. He is impatient now to receive GMO corn that can withstand drought, which is beginning to impact his corner of the world. He wants to have that choice.

Screenings of this film are planned across Canada. You can also arrange a local screening, or access the film through Amazon, iTunes, hulu, Google Play and YouTube.