Last December, Venezuela approved a new law regulating GMOs—one of the toughest of its kind in the world. The ruling rejects the import, production, and distribution of seeds that have been genetically engineered—it also prohibits the “research of transgenic seeds.”
Venezuela isn’t exactly breaking new ground, even with its harsh legislation. Sixteen countries in the European Union opted out of using genetically modified crops in October 2015, and 26 countries worldwide have banned them outright. Yet in the U.S., where genetically engineered foods have been prevalent for the past 20 years, change is happening a little more slowly.
Even though companies like Chipotle, Whole Foods, and Panera have renounced the use of GMO products, the United States government is far more lenient on the issue. A whopping 89 percent of Americans want to see genetically engineered food labeled as such, but the House of Representatives passed the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act” in July. The ruling blocks the mandatory labeling of modified products, and was aptly dubbed the “DARK (Deny Americans the Right to Know) Act” by opponents.
Consumers worry about the use of GMOs because there aren’t any studies that show evidence that lifelong consumption of “frankenfood” is safe. The American Medical Association, British Medical Association, and Codex Alimentarius (associated with the World Trade Association), all recommend more pre-market safety assessments on bioengineered products before more laws regarding their usage are passed. On the flip side, there isn’t enough research available that concretely deems GMOs unsafe for humans.
“It’s crazy-making,” says film director Daryl Wein. “Reading books and articles about GMOs, watching documentaries and talking to researchers—you become kind of obsessed with it and how it’s affecting our everyday lives.”
Wein and his partner, actress and writer Zoe Lister-Jones, realized that the controversy surrounding genetically engineered seeds could make an interesting film. But they didn’t want to make a documentary. “[Documentaries] just preach to the choir,” says Wein. “This story had corporate deception and espionage. It’s incredible how seed patents work, and how these companies are monopolizing our food supply. It had all the trappings of a political thriller.”
So Wein and Lister-Jones set out to make Consumed, which is part sci-fi, part nail-biting thriller. The film tells the fictionalized story of a small-town single mom, Sophie (played by Lister-Jones), whose only child suddenly develops a rash and a host of other strange symptoms. In an attempt to figure out what’s wrong with her son, Sophie stumbles across the GMO debate. She’s forced to answer the question: Are the GMO-laden foods she’s been feeding him since birth the cause of his illness?
“We tried to portray the issues through a fictional lens,” Wein says. “And we highly researched everything in the film, and had it vetted by some of the top organizations that study this stuff like a href=”https://www.fooddemocracynow.org/”>Food Democracy Now, Just Label It, The Consumer’s Union—even Erin Brockovich.” After more research, Wein and Lister-Jones also started interviewing farmers in Illinois who deal with GMOs and work with regulation organizations every day. The farmers’ response? “They were cagey. They were worried they would get in trouble with Big Ag.”
Thus far, Wein says there hasn’t been any pushback from Big Ag or any pro-GMO groups. But he credits that to the fact that the film plays to both sides of the argument—and it doesn’t come to a conclusion either way. “We’re just trying to get people talking about the issues,” he says. “All we do is raise questions. We just want to know: Why is the biotech industry keeping us in the dark?”
Illustration by Katherine Prendergast
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