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Food Evolution sparks conversations on GMOs

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“The survival of our species has always depended on advancement in food and agriculture.”

The opening line of the movie Food Evolution certainly rings true. If you’re not familiar with it, Food Evolution is a documentary that examines the “brutally polarized debate marked by passion, suspicion and confusion” regarding the controversy surrounding genetically engineered food.

An important message

Narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson, the film conveys an important message of the need for more conversations around the science and facts of GMOs when it comes to agriculture and the negative perception of genetic engineering.

Without a theatrical release or availability on Netflix, getting its message across has taken some effort. The filmmakers have taken a unique approach to launch the film. They’re providing organizations, community groups and others the opportunity to show Food Evolution in a public setting, with many Agriculture More Than Ever partners helping spread awareness about the film across Canada.

“It’s encouraging to see so many agriculture industry groups offer the screening to create connections with people outside of agriculture and to help them expand their knowledge about where food comes from and how it’s produced,” says Candace Hill, Manager of Agriculture More Than Ever.

Robert Saik, founder of Agri-Trend, says he finds it encouraging that so many groups around the world have screened the film. Agri-Trend hosted a screening at Red Deer College on November 10 as part of its 20th anniversary celebrations.

“If you remove genetic engineering out of the toolbox of agriculture, you have lost one of the most significant tools that we are going to lean on for food security,” Robert explains. “As the movie is made more available, I think people are becoming more open to hearing a more balanced and rational and science-based view of the whole issue surrounding GMOs.”

Photo courtesy of Black Valley Films.

Encouraging conversations

While Food Evolution takes care to discuss both sides of the debate surrounding GMOs, it also presents the research and science in a way that anyone can understand, which is important when it comes to genetic engineering.

“A lot of people have been conditioned that GMOs are bad, but they can’t actually say what a GMO is. At the end of the day, if you choose to eat organic foods that is your choice and that is fine, but you need to know the facts,” explains Clinton Monchuk, Executive Director of Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan.

For its October 11 screening of the movie at the Broadway Theatre in Saskatoon, Farm & Food Care Saskatchewan opened the event to the community, which included a moderated panel discussion to continue the dialogue after the screening. The event drew approximately 320 people.

Panel discussion during a screening in Saskatoon.

“With genetic engineering, the lack of conversation from the onset turned into a perceived controversy and now, as an industry, we are playing catch-up…because fear travels faster than truth,” says Clinton.

Lindsey Ehman, Manager of Communications and Stakeholder Relations at Grain Growers of Canada, says her organization also hosted a screening as a chance to encourage conversation about GMOs in a new and engaging format, and used the screening as an opportunity to engage directly with policymakers.

“As an advocacy group, we find that it is essential to try and find new ways to engage,” Lindsey says. “The story in this movie that we liked is that it is not GMO versus organic. It is about the variety in agriculture and the potential that crop science has.”

Grain Growers of Canada also held a panel discussion after their screening focused on why people make decisions about food. “You’re definitely not going to convert everyone, but if you help someone think and seek out more information, then you’ve done your job for the day.”

Less than three per cent of Canadians have a connection to agriculture nowadays, which further highlights the need for the agriculture industry to speak up and share information to help people make informed decisions that are not based on fear.

“People just don’t have first-hand interactions with agriculture as they used to, and that’s why it’s important to have those conversations about agriculture. That’s why stories like the one in this film need to be told,” says Tracy Broughton, Policy and Producer Relations Manager with SaskCanola.

SaskCanola co-hosted a screening of the film with the Saskatchewan Science Centre in Regina on November 20.

The situation abroad

Given that the debate about GMOs isn’t limited to North America, Food Evolution looks at the stance toward genetic engineering in countries with food insecurity. Having operated a farm in Uganda since 2015, and having spent time in other African countries, Robert has seen the consequences where farmers do not have access to genetically engineered crops. Pointing to a part of Food Evolution that addresses the devastating banana wilt situation in Uganda, he says it is necessary for people in North America to be aware of what is happening in other countries. (Since the film’s production, Uganda passed a bill that will permit the development, testing, and use of GMO crops.)

And as one African farmer in the movie observes, it’s important for people in North America to be aware of how their decisions against genetic engineering can affect access in other countries.

Photo courtesy of Black Valley Films.

“We need to remember what the technologies that we have access to can mean for other countries, and the filmmakers did a good job of capturing that impact,” Tracy says. “We really take for granted the advancements that we have in North America.”

Food Evolution is available for home viewing on iTunes and Google Play.

Interested in hosting a public screening? You can find information about organizing one here.

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