The presence of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in our food supply is a highly-charged issue that only recently entered the public consciousness. And GMO OMG, a new film premiering tonight in New York City, aims to bring more attention to the topic, showcasing the complex issues surrounding the modified crops—like unknown health risks, environmental effects, political and economic entanglements, and more.
Filmmaker Jeremy Seifert paints this picture by embarking on a fact-finding journey that begins in Haiti and then continues on a cross-country road trip through the United States with his family, where he searchers for answers to questions about how to ensure the safety and health of his children, and the planet. (His unbelievably adorable sons, by the way, tend to steal the show with their equally unbelievably intelligent questions and observations.)
We caught up with Seifert to find out what inspired his OMG! moment when it came to GMOs, what he hopes the film will accomplish, and more:
The portion of the documentary that followed the Haitian peasant movement was really riveting. How did you find out about the protests there? It was a news story I read, and it really prompted me to make the film. I had been to Haiti before the earthquake and experienced just how broken and poor that country is and how confused it is culturally because of all of the meddling in their affairs from countries like ours. So when I read the about peasant farmers burning seeds, I really didn’t understand what the GMO issue was, what was going on. It really perplexed me. I know how poor and hungry they are and these seeds could help them feed their families—why are they burning them? I didn’t understand it, and I wanted to. When I got back from Haiti, it was a few months later that I decided to integrate and involve my family in the film, and it became more of a personal journey as a father, sort of surrounded by GMOs.
Once you started filming in the US, one of the things that surprised me was how few people had heard of GMOs in the man-on-the-street interviews. Did you edit out people who did know? I would say that one out of 20 to 30 people knew, and a lot of times that person would be a European. In all fairness, when we went to the Santa Monica farmer’s market, a good 20 to 30 percent of the people knew there. But all in all, as I traveled from gas stations to convenience stores across the country, I found that the vast majority of us don’t know what it is.
That’s especially mind-blowing in California because of the huge fight over Prop 37 last year. Were the interviews done before that? We did a lot of them right during the summer of Prop 37, and there was still that much ignorance.
Crazy. You started filming about two years ago. Since then, do you feel like there’s been progress in terms of the public becoming more informed about GMOs? It’s a very fragile sort of progress because of the continued misunderstanding and/or purposeful misinformation from both sides, both pro- and anti-GMO. There’s a lack of deeper understanding or seeking out the full spectrum of what’s going on. But in the last two and a half years, this really wasn’t an issue in the news much or something people were paying attention to. Literally as I began filming in Haiti and embarked on the trip, it suddenly started growing. Now over 20 states have labeling initiatives on the table. Washington State is going to be huge, and a lot of attention is being placed on that. They’re going to vote in November.
Your five and seven-year-old kids, Scout and Finn, now know more about GMOs than the average educated adult. Do they tell their friends about it? Well, Scout by nature is contrary, so he would often say to Finn, “I’m going to be a GMO farmer. I like GMOs.” But they both say things like, “We don’t eat that stuff,” or “We’re not supposed to because it’s bad for us.” Recently, we had a big family gathering and about two days into it, all of the cousins were like, “Woah, is that GMO? Does that have GMOs in it?” They haven’t seen the film, they were just listening to Finn talk about it…. I don’t feel bad about it like they’ve been brainwashed; I think it’s far better for them. Even if the kids are joking about it, still it’s a part of their vocabulary, they’re aware to a certain degree, and their parents have to deal with it to some degree. Now we’re starting to have a conversation, and I’d be honored if the film were in some way a part of that, awakening people to at least have the conversation. —Lisa Elaine Held
For more information and screening locations, visit www.gmofilm.com