Reports from IFT17

GM food: ‘where industry went wrong ...’

Targeting GM technology first at pesticides, rather than food, has blighted its future, says Trace Sheehan

Focusing genetically modified (GM) technology first on pesticides, rather than directly on food, has soured the debate about GM and blighted its future, says food science film maker Trace Sheehan.

The producer of the film Food Evolution – funded by the US-based Institute of Food Technology (IFT) – told the agrifood industry made key mistakes in launching GM science.

“The whole GMO [genetically modified organism] debate would have had a new face, if Golden Rice [which delivers a precursor of vitamin A] was launched before Roundup Ready corn [engineered to tolerate the herbicide glysphosate],” Sheehan said at the IFT’s Annual Convention & Food Expo.

‘Motivated by self-interest’

“Monsanto [which pioneered Roundup Ready varieties] didn’t feel the need to communicate the benefits to the public and other parties – often motivated by self interest – filled that vacuum.”

GM had become “a proxy for everything”, touching on many separate controversies around nutrition, agriculture and the record of big corporations. But, in reality, GM was a fast-developing technology; the merits of which should be decided on a case-by-case basis, he said.

Sheehan spoke to after the IFT premier of the film Food Evolution, directed by Oscar-nominated film director Scott Hamilton Kennedy.

The 90-minute feature makes the case to ground the debate about food science, particularly GM technology, on sound science rather than prejudice. Presented by US TV science star and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the film explored the myths and science surrounding GM technology and motives of opponents and supporters.

Combat world hunger

Featuring the views of anti-GM campaigners and scientists, who believe the technology could combat world hunger and mitigate the impact of climate change, the film offered both parties a platform to share their views about the controversial technology.

‘Easier to sell fear’

“It’s easier to sell fear rather than science and reassuranceYou can’t fit science into 140 characters on Twitter. But you sure can scare people.”

  • Trace Sheehan, film maker

Film producer Sheehan said the failure of Monsanto and others to communicate the direct benefits on human nutrition had allowed some commentators to offer a frightening but false picture of the potential GM offered consumers and the food industry.

“It’s easier to sell fear rather than science and reassurance,” he said. “You can’t fit science into 140 characters on Twitter. But, you sure can scare people.”

Presenter Tyson commented at the end of the film: “The good thing about science is that it’s true; whether or not you believe in it.”

Film producer Kennedy traced the public’s loss of trust in food science to the involvement of big corporations in the food industry.

“They [the public] see big corporations as bad. Clearly, we know greed leads to terrible influence and terrible decision making. But that does not mean that every big is bad or every small is innocent and good. You have to get past the clichés to the truth.”

Food Evolution’s director and producer spoke to at the IFT’s Annual Convention and Food Expo in Las Vegas on Tuesday (June 27).

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