Culture Multimedia

October 17, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Interview with Jeremy Seifert, Co-Director of GMO OMG!

GMO OMG! is the latest in food politics documentaries, released in September in select cities and theaters across the US. Food Politic got a chance to talk with co-director, Jeremy Seifert, on September 18. You can also read Aly Miller’s official review of the film elsewhere on our site.

The film has gotten a strong support from GMO activists, food sovereignty movements, and even Dr. Oz. On the other hand, publications like the New York TimesThe New Yorker, and Grist are criticizing Seifert for “brainwashing” the public with lack of scientific data. Below is an interview with Seifert that covers his approach to GMOs, film making, and industrial agriculture. It has been edited for length.

AM: How is it possible that we’re eating GMOs every day and what does it say about us as a culture?

JS: I kept going back, over and over again, to Wendell Berry, who wrote The Unsettling of America in 1976, the year I was born. It reads as though it was written in 2013.

They were in the thick of post-World War II modern industrialization of agriculture then and one of his views of it was: when you remove culture from agriculture and replace it with business and science, you take people out of the equation. And that’s exactly what happened: people were taken out of the equation and that’s why you have the death of the small family farm. You eventually arrive where we are today where the people have almost become mechanized in their eating habits; essentially we were taken out of the equation.

AM: In documenting cultural responses to GMOs, you’ve been criticized for not delving into the science behind them. What is your response to those who say you don’t have enough sound scientific backing?

JS: I do cover the study of professor Serelini because it was literally the only independent 2-year study out there that looked at the toxicity of GMOs. He looked at corn with RoundUp, RoundUp on its own, and corn without RoundUp.

The very fact that the scientific angle of the film is being scrutinized reflects the corporate mindset that controls feed and food. To demand of me as a filmmaker, that I delve into the intricacies of the science, is ridiculous. That’s a totally different film made for a different reason.

The people who reviewed the film so harshly on those terms, the pro-biotech professors or industry scientists who have also terribly criticized the anti-GMO movement or the organic movement or me as a filmmaker, use science as a weapon – seeing it as this godlike thing that is completely objective.

There is a science that knows how to make chemicals and kill insects and there is a science that approaches an entire ecology. Integrated Pest Management, where you can work within nature to solve problems, is a more humble approach to science.

Science is behind chemical warfare, nuclear power plants, and BPA. Science isn’t always right. It’s a question of the misappropriation of science, or how science is being used. Science is a human endeavor and, just like us, it’s fallible.

AM: I want to delve further into the ideology behind industrial farmers who believe that people would be hungry without genetically modified foods.  Do you agree with farmers who say they are feeding the world?  Where does that ideology come from?

JS: The idea that farmers have to feed the world came before GMOs and Monsanto – it started happening with modern industrialized agribusiness. It’s really an unfair burden to place on our farmers. “Hey, you have to feed the world and you have to increase yields, bigger and bigger, no matter the cost to you and the cost of the air and soil, no matter the cost to your neighbors.”

There’s so much to say about the “feed the world” thing: so manipulative, such propaganda. Do we need to feed the world? Should we feed the world? Instead of thinking that we need to push our product and our food on the rest of the world we need to help and support people in their situations, in their climate, in their own soil, to better grow their own seed.

Good farmers are really like artists. Many of them would agree that they are being dumbed-down to the point where they take the “latest greatest” feed with the fertilizer with the herb and pesticide.

What should be happening and is happening around the world is people understanding the need for food sovereignty. Which means that food isn’t controlled by corporations but by people. That’s how we can help the world feed itself. We can bring in better science, better technology, but only if it’s fitting for their situation.

AM: Before GMO OMG!  you made a documentary about food waste called Dive!I’m sure you already know the facts but each year, Americans throw out 40% of their food, and much of that food contains GMOs (up to 70% of all foods at the supermarket). How can we connect these problems?

JS: You have these companies saying we need “more more more” and higher yields because we have to feed the world. But the US throws away 40% of their food and the EU throws out 40% each year. There are a billion overweight people and a billion who are underfed and hungry.

It’s not an issue of “do we have enough food?” but an issue of “do we have a democratic system to make sure everyone is fed?” And beyond that, “What are they being fed? Is it nutritious? Or is just quantity?” And what we find with GMO is that it’s a mass quantity of nutritionally void food.

When you do grow some of your own food, you value it so much that you would never waste a tomato after waiting 90 days for it to grow. This is our most intimate interaction we can have with the planet.

-Aly Miller