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SF Blog: Will Food Evolution Change Minds About GMOs?

Food Evolution, a new film opening in theaters today, seeks to provide “a fully independent investigation into the topic of GMOs every step of the way,” according to director Scott Hamilton Kennedy and producer Trace Sheehan. While the film started as an in-depth look into sustainably feeding the world’s growing population, Kennedy and Sheehan became intrigued by the debate surrounding GMOs and “pivoted the story to explore the good, the bad, and the ugly of genetic engineering,” the filmmakers wrote in a detailed explanation of how the film came to be.

The good news?

The film is science based and, because of that, is being called “pro-GMO.”

The filmmakers say that wasn’t intentional, but that “we are simply ‘pro-Science’ because currently every major scientific institutions and all the data and peer-reviewed science tells us, as a process, it is as safe, if not safer, than any other seed breeding technique available.”

The bad news?

Will science and facts be enough to persuade consumers about the safety of GMOs?

Keith Kloor, a New York Journalist for Slate.com who embraces GMO foods himself, doesn’t think the documentary will convince anyone because it focuses on science not values.

“The film is an attempt to inject science into a debate that is shaped by values,” he writes. “That tactic, one that I have employed plenty of times in my own life with minimal results, seems destined to fail. Instead, perhaps we should all take a page from Van Eenennaam and try to be more willing to listen to how people’s values inform their opinions and find common ground from there.” (Read the full article here.)

Alison Van Eenennaam, a professor of animal genomics and biotechnology at the University of California–Davis, is featured in the film and in one scene engages in a meaningful conversation with an anti-GMO protester.

Kloor’s words stopped me in my tracks, because they sounded exactly like the advice that farmers receive about engaging with consumers. The same advice that I’ve heard from multiple agvocates and have shared with farmers through articles, including:

I certainly hope that Kloor is wrong in his prediction. And Folta's - the same Folta giving advice on communicating to consumers through shared values - review of Food Evolution gives me hope. 

"The real stars of the show are a papaya, a banana, and the people that need them," he writes in his review of the movie. "Their story is shown with stunning imagery and emotion-evoking vignettes that encapsulate the frustrations we feel as scientists with solutions stalled by activist fear mongering."

When I have the chance to watch the film for myself, I'll share my thoughts in this blog. (There isn't a viewing scheduled in Iowa, so we've requested to host a screening at our office.) For now, I'll hope that Folta's prediction, and not Kloor's, will come true: "It is a brave, first-class effort that will age impeccably well, and perhaps punctuate the transition to a gentler time where science and reason rule over misinformation and fear," writes Folta.

To see the film, here is a list of screenings this summer.

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