You certainly can’t criticize the documentary “GMO OMG” by complaining that it bombards the viewer with facts and figures. The presence of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) is a complicated and controversial subject, so how does filmmaker Jeremy Seifert tackle it? By showing us lots of footage of his kids.
I’m not a fan of the “What about the children?” argument in any political context, but it’s especially egregious in “GMO OMG,” out on DVD this week. Seifert’s argument (and it is an argument) basically boils down to “Even though we don’t know what GMOs do, shouldn’t we assume they’re bad because they might hurt our cute kids someday?”
Rather disingenuously claiming he wants to learn the “truth” about GMOs, Seifert loads his wife and three kids into the van for a GMO road trip of sorts. The footage of the family cavorting through wheat fields and by river streams is lovely, especially with a carefully curated soundtrack featuring the likes of My Morning Jacket. In one scene that’s almost breathtaking in its combination of knownothingness and cutesiness, Seifert has his kids wear hazmat suits before playing in some cornfields. Because, hey, you never know.
When he leaves the kids at the hotel and tries to get serious, Seifert’s case against GMOs basically comes down to interviewing other people who don’t trust them either, including Rep. Dennis Kucinich and a guy who runs an anti-GMO website. He also employs the Michael Moore Technique of showing up unannounced at the front door of a corporation demanding to get an interview, with about as much success. He does talk to a couple of “conventional” farmers, who extol the virtues of having a pesticide-resistant crop, but he’s not buying it.
In particular a French researcher whose study showing long-term effects in rats is the ONLY piece of actual scientific research on Seifert’s side. (When the study is later disavowed by the journal it was published in, Seifert immediately insinuates that nefarious influence from the likes of Monsanto must be the culprit.)
Seifert is on stronger ground, surprisingly, when he makes a cultural argument against the concept of genetically-modified seeds rather than a scientific one. The idea that seeds could be patented by a company, and that company could sue farmers for patent infringement if seeds happen to blow on their land, is disquieting. That may be a little hippy-dippy thinking, but at least Seifert can make that argument without having to understand the science behind GMOs.
I’m by no means pro-GMO, and certainly align with Seifert in his call to have products with GMO at least labeled so consumers can choose. But that should be an informed choice, and “GMO OMG” is a piece of one-sided, rather snide agitprop that only muddies the water further.