Doc Tackles Red Hot Stuff: Franken-Foods and the Seeds of Resistance
Film Review: Genetic Chile
According to Chris Dudley’s new film Genetic Chile, something very disenchanting is taking place in the Land of Enchantment. New Mexico’s iconic chile peppers, which help define the unique cuisine and culture of the state, appear to be under attack by Monsanto and the “seed police.” Although the state legislature failed to pass laws to protect its farmers from patent violation prosecution, it has provided $1 million to fund research at New Mexico State University’s Plant Genetic Engineering Laboratory to create a GMO chile.
But while Dudley films locally, his documentary acts globally, exposing the purported planetary ramifications of genetically modified organisms, that are legally required to be labeled by 150 other countries – but not by the USBA (the United States of Big Ag).
The hour-long documentary, recently released on DVD by Cinema Libre Studio, is chock-full of solid investigation, information, and perspectives on genetic modification, both pro and con. Using conventional nonfiction film techniques, Dudley builds a convincing case that Monsanto and the other seed policemen are hell bent on ramming GMOs down the planet’s throat, waging a genetic jihad to make the world safe for Big Ag. As Prof. Gil Seralini at France’s University of Caen asserts in the film: “They want to have royalties before anybody eats in the world.”
The European Union looks askance at GMOs and has far tighter regulations than the US, including labeling requirements. Genetic Chile tries to explain why. A graphic traces the “genealogy” of high-level staffers of the US regulatory agencies that supposedly protect the public. It shows how many of these staffers belong to a revolving door of personnel who go back and forth from corporate boardrooms to the government departments in charge of oversight of the same corporations.
This corrupt game of musical chairs includes Michael Taylor, a Monsanto attorney/lobbyist and vice president who became the Obama administration’s FDA food safety czar. Another case in point is Iowa’s Tom Vilsack, whom Monsanto and Syngenta named “Biotech Governor of the Year,” and who was later appointed Agriculture Secretary by Obama.
The film’s other talking heads include Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette, who notes: “Monsanto swore PCBs [for which it was fined $700 million] and Agent Orange were safe – they’re in charge of our food supply.” Among the ills Smith alleges Franken-food causes is “accelerated aging.” He points out that the American Academy of Environmental Medicine urges doctors to advise patients to adapt non-GMO diets.
Even more scathing is Constance Falk, an agricultural economics PhD from New Mexico State University (NMSU), who states that genetic engineering is the antithesis of organic farming, which generates healthy soil. Falk pointedly asks: “Why do you think this country is full of obese and sick people? Because we have a crappy food system.”
Ethnobiologist and farmer Miguel Santistevan of Taos, NM laments that “now we’re eating antibiotics” and warns GMOs cause lots of environmental impacts. “We need to proceed with caution before proliferating this technology into the open air,” where, among other things, the seeds are spread, which opens innocent farmers up to copyright infringement lawsuits by the purveyors of biotech. The documentary’s narrator flatly states, “the absence of pollen drift is the most specious and demonstrably false” of the industry’s claims.
The film scores with Isaura Andaluz, treasurer of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, who denounces the cultural imperialism of outsiders imposing their vision and method of producing chile peppers on the people of New Mexico. In an impassioned speech against seed “servitude” and “the total destruction of the culture of New Mexico,” she claims it’s now “hard to find non-GMO seeds.” One of Genetic Chile’s most poignant moments comes towards the end, when Andaluz – an Indigenous woman confronted by a multi-billion dollar corporate juggernaut – loses her composure and weeps.
There’s no doubt where this advocacy documentary’s sympathies lie, but to provide balance Genetic Chile also interviews NMSU genetic researcher and engineer Stephen Hanson. The longhaired, earring-sporting researcher lends a countercultural gloss to the biotech industry, and he strikes a rather idealistic note, contending that genetic engineering can “feed the hungry” and “benefit the farmers.” Although Hanson is outgunned in the film by GMO critics, the filmmaker indicates this is because Monsanto, et al, are secretive vis-à-vis the media. In what may be an attempt to even the playing field, Hanson’s complete interview is included in the DVD’s features.
In addition to gaming the political system, how do the seed police get away with these dubious policies? Through surveillance, Dudley contends. Big Biotech is watching you. The industry “relies on a shadowy army” that “infiltrates community meetings to gather information from informants about farming activities,” the film alleges. The Franken-fooders also pull the wool over the eyes of the public through highly hush-hush business practices, such as ensuring it’s illegal for GMO food to be labeled as such at the neighborhood grocery story.
A way to combat industry secretiveness is by voting in California for this fall’s Proposition 37, the GMO “Right to Know” ballot measure, which, if passed, will inform consumers whether or not the food they’re buying has been genetically engineered.
At one point in Genetic Chile, agricultural economist Falk claims that GMOs have “not solved hunger problems” and “just made profits.” Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, a founder of anarchism, famously declared: “Property is theft.” In our society, where profit is exalted as the end all and be all, perhaps we should start questioning the ethics of charging more for a product or service than it’s worth – and, indeed, if doing so makes nature and people sick in the process. Perhaps profit, too, is theft.
Overall, Genetic Chile makes a highly convincing case that GMOs are unsafe at any feed.