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The Future of Food. 88 minutes, 2004. Lily Films. $10.00 (Home Viewing Editions).

The Future of Food DVD Cover    Photo Still from The Future of Food Photo Still from The Future of Food

REVIEW of The Future of Food:

The Future of Food is a documentary exploring the rise and proliferation of genetically engineered (GE) and modified (GM) foods within the industrialized food system. Though the story is told primarily from the point of view of genetic engineering and genetic modification critics, it brings in stories of farmers and people who have experienced negative fallout from interactions with the industry which leave even the biggest fans of GE and GM foods with a bad taste in their mouths. The film explores several major issues regarding food safety, ethics, and the consumer right-to-know.

Regarding food safety, the film discusses the rise of genetically engineered foods and the pervasive nature of the technology in our food system, all unlabeled and unbeknownst to most consumers. Many other industrial countries have banned or severely restricted GE and GM foods but the United States has been using, among others, GE high fructose corn syrup in many food products for years. This has created concerns of potential health impacts we have yet to see. One woman's story of severe allergic reaction from corn products that were not supposed to be in the human food supply puts the safety of such foods in question.

Of ethics, the film discusses the consolidation of food industries and the power granted them by the patenting of seeds. The patenting of seeds is a recent phenomena and one that critics of the move have described as unethical. They ask the viewers, “who has the right to patent life?” and leave us with the lingering worry of living in a world where human life is increasingly controlled by consolidated industries with a profit motive. The film addresses the plight of small farmers facing down the corporate giants by following the story of two farmers Monsanto accused of violating their patents for Ready Roundup canola and soy. The farmers in question were not purposefully using Monsanto's seeds but were nonetheless accused of violating seeds patents when Monsanto representatives tested their crops and showed positive results. These positive results were caused when natural processes and dumb luck enabled cross pollination of the farmers' seeds with those of Monsanto. After expensive legal battles and the forced destruction of their seeds, the farmers share their take on Monsanto's toll on the family farmer.

The fact that GE and GM foods are not required by law to carry a label are discussed as serving a twofold purpose- keeping consumers from purchasing competing non-GMO labels and reducing traceability in the event of adverse food reactions. The labeling of GE and GM foods in other countries are discussed in juxtaposition with the policies of the United States and sheds lights on the complex politicization of food. The issue of labeling leads to a discussion of close relationship of corporate and political interests and the effects of personal economic interests on regulatory policies. Many of those in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Drug Administration were former Monsanto executives. In this way the consumer's right-to-know is shown to be subverted by corporate and political interests.

The Future of Food takes a critical look at the United State's shift to GE and GM foods and offers a few solutions to counter what seems to be near monolithic problems for consumers and family farmers. Through organic foods and sustainable and community supported agriculture, the future of food need not look so bleak. Many people across the world refuse to support GE and GM foods by growing their own organic foods, saving seeds, and fighting for anti-GE/GM legislation. Monsanto emerges as the film's main villain and a lack of corporate rebuttal might turn off some viewers, but what the film lacks in balance, it makes up for in highlighting the urgency of potential long-term effects including the loss of family farms, plant diversity, and adverse impacts to human health.

Supplements for this film:
This film could be supplemented with the following books:

Nestle, Marion. (2003). Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition, and Health. Revised and Expanded Edition, University of California Press.

Patel, Raj. (2008). Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System. Melville House.

Shiva, Vandana. (2000). Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply. South End Press.

Shiva, Vandana. (2007). Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed. South End Press.

Review by Lisa Conley
University of Kentucky

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS for The Future of Food:

1. What is your initial reaction to the film?

2. Were you aware of genetically engineered food before this film?

3. Though thousands of corn and potato varieties exist, why do you think U.S. groceries only stock one or two varieties?

4. What other products has Monsanto created in addition to Roundup?

5. How is genetic engineering an “invasive” method?

6. Why goes genetic engineering rely on viruses and antibiotics to be spliced with DNA? What are the potential problems with this?

7. What are susceptibilities of monoculture crops?

8. What are the effects of “super weeds” on farmers?

9. How might corporate and political conflicts of interest affect the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency's regulation of genetically engineered foods?

10. What are landraces and how do they relate to plant diversity?

11. Why is it cheaper for Mexicans to import American corn instead of growing their own?

12. Do you think life should be patented- why or why not?

13. How do large corporations in the food system effect small farmers?

14. What do biotechnology industries do to scientists who are critical of genetic engineering/modification?

15. How did patents disrupt research on the breast cancer gene?

16. What does food industry consolidation affect consumer choice?

17. What are the commonly held beliefs about the cause of world starvation?

18. Can genetically engineered foods end world starvation?

19. How does the subsidization of crops in one country affect the food markets in other countries?

20. What are “terminator seeds”?

21. How do “terminator seeds” affect farmers?

22. Why do you think the U.S. Is a co-owner of the “terminator seed” patent?

23. What are concerns associated with “pharming” or the insertion of drugs into foods?

24. What is sustainable agriculture?

25. How many miles does the average food travel from production to market in the U.S.?

26. What is organic food?

27. How might our ideas of scale have to change in order for agriculture to be sustainable, organic, and local?

28. South Dakota, Nebraska, and eight other states passed legislation banning non-family owned farming. Do you agree this was their right? What about the “free market?”

29. Should genetically engineered and genetically modified foods be labeled for consumers?

30. What is your overall impression of the film?

31. Were all ‘positions’ represented in the film?

32. Are you personally concerned about your consumption of genetically engineered/modified foods? Explain. What might you do about this?

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