I didn’t know what to expect when I first attended the Monsanto movie night, featuring the Food Evolution film. Looking up the documentary quickly beforehand, I expected the debate to cover both arguments about the usage of GMOs. And I was very curious to hear what the Monsanto panelists had to say...because nobody had ever explained this to me before.
They say there are only two ways to possibly view this issue: you’re either for or against GMOs. But that has never described me, because I never formulated a solid opinion. Whenever that three-syllable word dropped in class, I would hear instant mutters of disgust or see heads nodding in approval. There was this instant connotation associated with the concept, and you almost felt pressured into taking a polarized stance. But there was no substantial discussion that followed--no in-depth reasoning as to how each crop was being modified to overcome a specific circumstance, the types of studies conducted to assess their side effects on mankind, the evaluation of how accurate those studies were in the first place….and so while I felt guilty about not having a stance, how could I possibly make such a one-sided decision? You’re not supposed to compare apples to oranges, so why should I make a black and white conclusion that all GMOs are good/bad for all food groups?
My mom always cautioned me about the possible side effects of genetically modified food, so I naturally shop for organic items at Target. But to be honest, my instinctive habit to look for the non-GMO label wasn’t driven by my own reasoning--rather the fear of disobeying someone who was my role model in every aspect of my life, especially nutrition.
So taking all of this into consideration during the film, I learned some major points:
The first takeaway is that those who support and those who are against GMOs all want the same thing: growing more food to feed the growing population, and reducing the amount of chemicals and pesticides. It may be easy to forget that while debating argument after argument, but we truly agree on the most simplified factors of what we believe is best for the world.
The second concept is what I’ve been building up this entire time--there is so much information about this subject, but many studies and statistics that are creating major emotional responses and backlash for GMOs have no substantial evidence backing them. What we end up with is lack of communication about what GMOs are. Both parties need to discuss with one another and understand what information they’re lacking. Scientists need to reach out and find more ways to articulate what they’re specifically doing. Maybe they can create vlogs as they’re working, showing viewers what they are doing step by step, for instance. At the same time, those who do not genetically engineer food need to understand that research is always going to be a major component in understanding GMOs. That doesn’t mean skimming over articles that brief over the pros and cons without attributing evidence or sources’ credentials. It means reaching out to the science community and giving suggestions that you think would best help your understanding. It means finding opportunities to attend debates or conferences where you get the opportunity to speak with scientists about your concerns. Get as many scientific opinions as you can and know the credentials of those sources. Contact employees from various GMO corporations. Ask clients and partners their thoughts of these corporations. The more connections you make, the more angles of an issue you’ll know.
I definitely have a better understanding of GMOs produced in our society now. I see the benefits as we try to create food for seven billion people with limited resources, natural disasters, mutating viruses, and more pesticide-tolerating insects. On the other hand, because I am not a scientist and do not watch over scientists conducting their procedures, I will naturally have fear and skepticism whether certain companies are producing genetically modified organisms in the way they are intended. Good advancements in technology can always be used in harmful ways or for one’s specific self-interest. But that doesn’t mean technology itself will disappear. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, roughly 90 percent of corn, soybeans, and cotton are genetically engineered--GMOs are as prominent as ever. Crops will be modified in some way. But if you take the time to network yourself into a community, the processes and people involved become much more familiar and less of an ambiguous and intimidating concept.
Monsanto panelists Dave Shenaut, Ken Dalenberg, and Courtney Walker confirmed these points from the film, but what I admired most were their actions during the film. Courtney Walker was taking notes the entire time, scribbling thoughts, reflections, and new takeaways. Here is someone who worked as district sales manager for Monsanto, and was still taking notes to better understand the different angles of GMOs. That shows how being open-minded about learning both sides of an issue can help all of us come to better resolutions.
All in all, I highly recommend you watch the movie and do what Courtney did--just take notes and challenge yourself to view the other party’s perspective.