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VegParadise Media Reviews

The Future of Food

Written, Produced, and Directed by Deborah Koons Garcia

Lily Films, 2004

DVD, $24.95

What do the Grateful Dead and Monsanto have in common? The question seems absurd linking a legendary rock group with one of the largest pesticide manufacturers in the world. But the association between the two is not ludicrous. Debra Koons Garcia, the widow of Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, has produced The Future of Food, a shocking documentary of how biotech companies like Monsanto are trying to exert control over the food that appears on people's tables.

To those who are interested in buying and eating organic foods, Monsanto is the evil empire spreading its pesticide Roundup on genetically engineered crops that could cause the demise of organic produce.

The Future of Food The film is replete with shocking surprises. Not many Americans are aware that Monsanto, along with a few other mega corporations, controls almost all the seeds available in this country. Monsanto has also created the terminator seed that prevents farmers from saving seeds from their crops to use the following year. Instead of saving seeds, a technique used for centuries, farmers must return to purchase new seeds each year.

One significant revelation in the film is how pervasive genetically modified organisms have become. Much of the corn, soybeans, canola (rapeseed), and cotton have been engineered so that they can be sprayed with Monsanto's Roundup pesticide without damage to the crop. In 1980 no genetically modified versions of these crops were in existence, but by 2003 over 100,000,000 acres were planted with genetically engineered varieties.

Rats die on GMO potatoes

No one has investigated what effect this sprayed crop has on the health of the people eating it. The biotech industry has consistently challenged any researchers who presented data critical of their engineered crops. The film reveals one scientist who was dismissed after he reported how the immune systems of rats were negatively impacted when they were fed genetically modified potatoes. A corn borer will die if it eats any part of the plant. In fact, genetically engineered corn is registered as an herbicide because every cell contains herbicide.

The film points out that genetically modified plants cannot be controlled or contained in the environment. Winds will carry seeds to areas where they were not originally planted. In some cases these plants will become dominant and wipe out heirloom varieties. Because Monsanto has patented these genetically engineered plants, the company can sue any farmer whose acreage contains these plants, even if they were the result of seeds blown in by the wind.

Garcia stirs the anger of viewers by showing how Monsanto has bullied small farmers with lawsuits. Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer, was sued by the giant chemical company for patent infringement after Monsanto's genetically engineered seeds blew into his fields and began to grow. Ronald Nelson, a North Dakota farmer, was the target of Monsanto legal action for infringing on their patent after they surveyed 3800 acres of his soybean crop and found genetically modified plants.

Monsanto patents every seed in sight

Since 1978 companies like Monsanto have been able to patent seeds and new plants. Pesticide manufacturers like Monsanto have made a concerted effort to buy up seed companies and to patent their seeds. Currently Monsanto has amassed over 11,000 seed patents. Four clusters of companies now control the seeds sold around the world.

Governmental lack of interest in testing or regulating genetically engineered food has led to questions about the safety of the food supply. The film reveals that many prominent government officials have had ties to Monsanto and the biotech industry. The list includes former Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, Michael Taylor of the USDA, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and even Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Instead of investigating the giant chemical conglomerates, the Bush administration has chosen to pressure foreign countries to accept American GMO crops.

Seduced by huge financial contributions from the biotech industry, Congress has failed to pass any legislation requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods. In 1999 Congressman Dennis Kucinich introduced the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act, but the bill has never emerged from the agriculture committee. In the Senate a similar bill introduced by Barbara Boxer in 2000 has languished in committee.

But Congress does manage to vote to continue farm subsidies that have created problems for developing counties around the world. In Mexico, for example, farmers find it cheaper to buy US corn than to grow it themselves. They eat some and plant the rest. Some of this corn has been genetically modified and has contaminated the native species that has been developed over the last 7000 years.

Subsidies save farmers

In the US the cost involved in producing a bushel of corn is more than the selling price. Without subsidies US farmers would go out of business. On the other hand, farmers in Mexico and many other nations cannot compete because they receive no subsidies for their crops.

The Future of Food Garcia concludes the film with signs of hope as she shows efforts of sustainable agriculture on organic farms. She depicts the establishment of CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture) to distribute food from farmer to consumer and bypass the supermarket chains. Also shown is the rise of farmers markets as an alternative method for distributing organic fresh farm produce.

The Future of Food is part of a recent trend of documentary films to enlighten the public with social problems unlikely to be revealed in the mass media that is also controlled by conglomerates and influenced by mega corporations like Monsanto. The film succeeds because it does not rant but, instead, calmly presents information by scientists and consumer advocates to indict the companies that are attempting to place a stranglehold on our food supply.

Garcia has been criticized for not presenting Monsanto's side of the story, but she has responded by saying the offer was made and rejected by the company that only sent her publicity materials.

Photographed on location in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, The Future of Food was first issued in 2004 and promoted by the Organic Consumers of America who encouraged people to screen the film in small groups in their homes. Distribution in theaters in 2005 has brought the film to a wider audience.

VIP urges all vegetarians to view the film in the theater or purchase the DVD from Organic Consumers Association or Amazon and share the information with others. Public awareness of issues covered in the film are essential in bringing pressure on our government to institute two major reforms: laws requiring the labeling of genetically engineered foods and regulations to curb the excesses of the biotech industry. By speaking out, we all can play a vital role in safeguarding our food supply.

Additional information about the film can be found at http://www.futureoffood.com

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