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Film Exposes the Mistrust of Science Through GMOs

BY: Kelly Hensel
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Scott Hamilton Kennedy and Mark LynasIn a special session on Monday morning, attendees viewed clips of the upcoming Food Evolution documentary and listened and participated in a lively discussion with IFT President-Elect John Coupland, Director/Producer of Food Evolution Scott Hamilton Kennedy, and Fellow at the Cornell Alliance for Science Mark Lynas. In his introduction, Coupland recapped IFT’s multi-year project to produce the Food Evolution documentary, which is in final production stages and will make its public debut later this year. Kennedy revealed that a well-known science communicator has recently agreed to narrate the film and details will be publicized soon.

The film begins with an apropos quote by Mark Twain—“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them they have been fooled.” This helps to “set the scene” for the documentary that focuses on the GMO debate in order to highlight the schism between science and consumers’ fear. Kennedy explained that when they first began the project they contemplated how to make a film that encompasses food, science, and sustainability in just 90 minutes. Given the prevalence of the GMO debate in the news, it made sense to use it to tell the story of how sound science can help meet the challenges of feeding a growing population.

Environmentalist Mark Lynas, who is prominently featured in the film, explained that he was once adamantly against GMOs but science made him come around. “I discovered science and in the process I hope I am becoming a better environmentalist,” he states in a clip of the documentary shown to attendees. But, he notes that he’s not pro-GMO; he’s pro-science.

Coupland, Kennedy, and Lynas discussed the need for more sound science and cautioned about the “single study syndrome” and cherry picking science to fit the conclusions you want to reach. However, even with a body of sound scientific evidence, there are those who will refuse to recognize or trust it. “Issues like climate change and GMOs are politically symbolic issues,” explained Lynas. “Some believe that GMOs imply corporate control of the food system and therefore don’t support it.”

Lynas believes this distrust and fear of GMOs gets at a much deeper cultural issue in humanity—the transgression of some kind of natural boundary and the fear of technology progressing in ways that humans can’t understand or control. And while science should be about changing your conclusion based on evidence, changing your mind doesn’t get celebrated in today’s world.

The last clip played for attendees highlights an Intelligence Squared debate on GMOs in which experts on both sides presented scientific evidence and the audience was able to vote before and after the debate on who they agreed with. Interestingly, before the debate began only 32% of the audience favored GMOs but after hearing arguments from Monsanto’s Robert Fraley and University of California–Davis’ Alison Van Eenennaam 60% of the audience voted for GMOs.

So, perhaps it is possible for sound science to make an impact on the public and change people’s perspectives. Only by depolarizing the debate around GMOs and biotechnology will we be able to come together to address the issues that everyone shares—how to feed a growing population in a sustainable way. Kennedy hopes that the Food Evolution documentary helps advance that cause.

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