By Craige Mackenzie: Methven, New Zealand
As a farmer in New Zealand, I have no access to genetically modified crops. Our legislation does not allow us to grow them on our island nation.
So I was eager to learn more about GMOs on my recent trip to the United States—and I jumped at the chance to see “Food Evolution,” a new documentary narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson.
If you want an excellent introduction to the science behind GMOs, watch “Food Evolution.” In about an hour and half, it teaches more about food, farming, and biotechnology than you’re likely to learn from a week of web browsing.
My screening took place last month at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. It proved to be a perfect setting. Right outside the building is a memorial to Albert Einstein—a large bronze statue of the great scientist.
He’s seated on a bench, which features a quote: “The right to search for truth implies also a duty; one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.”
What a refreshing statement. Too often, politics trumps science. People with slanted agendas manipulate facts and fears to push an ideology.
So we’re left with stunning disparities about what scientists know and what the public believes. “Food Evolution” cites a survey: 88 percent of scientists say GMOs are safe to eat, but only 37 percent of the American public shares this view. (The ultimate source for this data is a 2015 poll by the Pew Research Center.)
What accounts for this big difference? I’m not an expert on U.S. public opinion, but I know that in New Zealand, many people closed their minds to GMOs a long time ago, worried that they weren’t safe to consume, that they would negatively impact our environment or that multinational corporations were trying to foist them upon us.
“Food Evolution” addresses it all: Science shows us that GMOs are safe to eat, and the major beneficiaries include small farmers in developing nations.
It helps that Neil deGrasse Tyson narrates the documentary. He’s one of America’s most popular and trusted scientists—an astrophysicist who directs the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, the host of the television series “Cosmos,” and a public intellectual who specializes in scientific subjects.
Yet the real power of “Food Evolution” comes from its on-screen interviews with people like Motlatsi Musi, a South African farmer who describes how GMOs have improved his life. Musi says that GMOs allowed him to grow more crops, which helped him send his son to college. He looks forward to a new generation of GMOs that will grapple with climate change, especially drought.
He also pleads with people in wealthy nations to support his efforts: “Americans beware. Please be informed. Whenever you say no to GMO technology, you are suppressing Africa.”
What he means is that public opinion in the United States and Europe affects the decisions of African governments—and when it comes to GMOs, too many African leaders have listened to the shouts of political activists rather than the wisdom of smart scientists.
Next month, Motlatsi will travel to Iowa for the World Food Prize conference. I am pleased he will be able to personally share his perspective and first-hand experience with the opinion leaders, researchers, business and political leaders who will gather together to discuss the issue of food security and the theme “Road out of Poverty”.
Other remarkable stories in “Food Evolution” include banana farmers in Uganda, whose fruit suffers from a deadly disease. Initially, they feared a GMO solution. As they learned more about it, however, they came to recognize that safe science promises a potential solution.
We also learn that GMOs saved the papaya industry in Hawaii. They’ve made food production more secure everywhere they’ve been tried.
It renewed my hope that New Zealand will allow the appropriate commercialization of relevant crops for our environment. They let farmers grow more food on less land than ever before while using our natural resources more efficiently, effectively limiting human impact on the land.
Now it’s time to stop reading my account: Watch the film and make up your own mind about GMOs. “Food Evolution” is freshly available on Hulu, the video-on-demand service. Other options include iTunes as well as movie-house screenings around the world. A DVD should be available late this year or early next.
Your only obligation after seeing it—in the spirit of Einstein—is to tell the truth about what you know.
Craige Mackenzie uses precision agriculture tools and techniques to produce specialty seed crops including wheat, ryegrass, fescue, hybrid carrots, hybrid radish, pak choi, plantain and chicory along with a dairy operation in Methven, New Zealand. Craige serves as a board member of the Global Farmer Network (www.globalfarmernetwork.org).