Quantcast
GMO
Wikimedia Commons

Neil deGrasse Tyson Fans Deserve More Than Twisted Tale on GMOs

By Stacy Malkan

Neil deGrasse Tyson has inspired millions of people to care about science and imagine themselves as participants in the scientific process. What a hopeful sign it is to see young girls wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the words, "Forget princess, I want to be an astrophysicist."


His devoted fan base, as I've discovered in the past few days, includes my mom, my best friend and closest colleagues. All of them, and especially the young people who trust Tyson to lead with integrity in matters of science, deserve better than the twisted tale dished out by Food Evolution, the new documentary film about genetically modified foods (GMOs) that is driving its promotion on the coattails of Tyson's narration and kicking up controversy for its biased approach.

Already, two of the best-known experts interviewed for the film, Marion Nestle and Michael Pollan, have complained that their views were misrepresented and their comments taken out of context.

My review of Food Evolution describes the film as a textbook case of corporate propaganda, and offers clear-cut examples of how the film selectively and unfairly presents science. The review explains how a trade group, whose leadership hails from the agrichemical industry, funded Food Evolution as part of a multi-year messaging project and hand-picked its director, Scott Hamilton Kennedy.

This is an unusual scenario for a science documentary, but it wouldn't matter if the film reported fairly and honestly about the topic it purports to objectively explore. The film does not deliver on that promise, and making matters worse, the filmmakers are facing a series of embarrassing revelations about their unfair treatment of interview subjects.

Two days before the film's official release, which opens today in New York City, NYU Professor Marion Nestle, Ph.D., wrote a harsh review about the film's many biases, and said she has repeatedly asked the filmmakers to remove her short interview clip. "The director refuses. He believes his film is fair and balanced. I do not," Nestle wrote.

"I am often interviewed (see media) and hardly ever quoted incorrectly or out of context. This film is one of those rare exceptions."

Her take on Food Evolution concluded, "I view it as a slick piece of GMO industry propaganda. If you want a thoughtful discussion of the real issues raised by food biotechnology, you will need to look elsewhere."

UC Berkeley Professor Michael Pollan—who also appears in Food Evolution and whose name the filmmakers have been dropping in their promotional efforts—said his experience and take on the film were "much the same" as Nestle's, and that the filmmakers have misrepresented his views.

Interviews with several other GMO critics who appeared in the film, or were asked to be in it, corroborate the picture of a strange process involving sneaky filming, selective editing, misrepresentation and lack of disclosure about the film's funding.

Eric Holt-Giménez, Ph.D., executive director of the Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First), an agroecologist with 30 years of experience in the developing world, said he spent four hours in an interview with the filmmakers discussing research from the institute's books and trying to raise issues related to the structural aspects of hunger and how GMOs have exacerbated rural poverty and decreased environmental resilience. His interview was left out of the film entirely.

Holt-Giménez said that no matter what information he provided, the director Scott Kennedy focused on the health and safety discussion and replied that he just didn't see what was wrong with GMOs. Holt-Giménez also said the filmmakers refused to answer his questions about who was funding them.

Tufts researcher Timothy Wise, an agricultural development expert, withdrew his consent to be included in the film after asking repeatedly for more information about the funding.

Why the evasions and deceptions?

One possible explanation is that the film was not an objective investigation into the science of GMOs but rather a messaging project to advance the agenda of the agrichemical industry.

The positive publicity from a pro-GMO/pesticide movie—such as the puff review written by Daniel M. Gold in the New York Times—could prove useful at a crucial political moment as the seed/chemical corporations face lawsuits and regulatory threats and pursue mega mergers to consolidate control over our food supply.

As Dr. Tyson has famously said, "The good thing about science is that it's true, whether or not you believe in it." But Dr. Tyson seems to forget that history is also true, whether or not you believe in it.

It is true, whether or not we like it, that corporations such as Monsanto have a history of manipulating science, academia and the media to manufacture doubt and confusion about science in order to keep regulations and public scrutiny to a minimum as they do whatever they need to do to maximize profits.

Now that he is in the middle of the contentious GMO debate, Tyson owes it to his fans to broker a more honest conversation—one that involves not just the views of genetic engineers who have a financial stake in public acceptance of the technology that provides their livelihood, but also considers the broader cultural, political and scientific realities relevant to genetic engineering and the future of our food system.

A more honest conversation about GMOs would include information about the complex and contradictory nature of the science; the proprietary controls over research; the legitimate concerns about the health risks of glyphosate and the worsening pesticide treadmill problem.

It would consider the environmental, social justice and economic issues at stake, and the political context in which decisions about science—and big-budget movies that purport to document science—are made.

As Tyson has so eloquently explained, "the cross pollination of disciplines is fundamental to truly revolutionary advances in our culture."

Stacy Malkan is co-director of U.S. Right to Know.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Climate
Neil Young. Takahiro Kyono / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

‘Unfit Leader’: Neil Young Loses Home to Fire, Rips Trump for Insensitive Tweet

Musician Neil Young, who lost his Malibu home to the devastating Woolsey fire, is urging the world to come together to fight climate change—especially since the president of the U.S. seems "unfit" to take care of the problem, as the icon said.

On Sunday, the legendary rocker posted a letter on his website, the Neil Young Archives, blasting Donald Trump's infamous denial of climate science and his Saturday tweet that blamed California's wildfires on "gross mismanagement of the forests" even though most of the fires are burning on federal land.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Westend61 / Getty Images

EcoWatch Gratitude Photo Contest: Submit Now!

EcoWatch is pleased to announce its first photo contest! Show us what in nature you are most thankful for this Thanksgiving. Whether you have a love for oceans, animals, or parks, we want to see your best photos that capture what you love about this planet.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Pexels

Fight Climate Change in Your Own Garden

By Deonna Anderson

During World War I, Americans were encouraged to do their part in the war effort by planting, fertilizing, harvesting and storing their own fruits and vegetables. The food would go to allies in Europe, where there was a food crisis. These so-called "victory gardens" declined when WWI ended but resurged during World War II. By 1944, nearly 20 million victory gardens produced about 8 million tons of food.

Keep reading... Show less
Business
Jean-Paul Gaultier talks to French model Cindy Bruna in his workshop in Paris on July 1. ALAIN JOCARD / AFP / Getty Images

Jean Paul Gaultier Drops Fur, Calls Industry 'Absolutely Deplorable'

Another top fashion designer has pledged to ditch animal fur.

During a live appearance on the French television channel Bonsoir!, Jean Paul Gaultier said will no longer use the material in his collections.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
The battlefield of Verdun is part of France's Zone Rouge, cordoned off since the end of WWI. Oeuvre personnelle / Wikimedia Commons

This World War I Battlefield Is a Haunting Reminder of the Environmental Costs of War

World War I ended 100 years ago on Sunday, but 42,000 acres in northeast France serve as a living memorial to the human and environmental costs of war.

The battle of Verdun was the longest continuous conflict in the Great War, and it so devastated the land it took place on that, after the war, the government cordoned it off-limits to human habitation. What was once farmland became the Zone Rouge, or Red Zone, as National Geographic reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Waves from the Atlantic Ocean crash against a scenic beach on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This sandy peninsula is a popular summer vacation destination and is also known for its many Great White sharks. Velvetfish / iStock / Getty Images

Cape Cod’s Gray Seal and White Shark Problem Is Anything but Black-and-White

By Jason Bittel

On a sunny Saturday in mid-September, 26-year-old Arthur Medici was boogie-boarding in the waves off Wellfleet, Massachusetts, when a great white shark bit his leg. Despite the efforts of a friend who pulled him ashore and the paramedics who rushed him to the hospital, Medici died from his injuries. It's about as tragic a story as you can imagine: a young life cut short due to a freak run-in with a wild animal.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Renewable Energy
Max Pixel

Koch Industries Lobbies Against Electric Vehicle Tax Credit

By Dana Drugmand

Koch Industries is calling for the elimination of tax credits for electric vehicles (EVs), all while claiming that it does not oppose plug-in cars and inviting the elimination of oil and gas subsidies that the petroleum conglomerate and its industry peers receive.

Outgoing Nevada Republican Senator Dean Heller introduced a bill in September that would lift the sales cap on electric vehicles eligible for a federal tax credit, and replace the cap with a deadline that would dictate when the credit would start being phased out.

Keep reading... Show less
Pexels

10 Things You Always Wanted to Know About Neonics

By Daniel Raichel

As massive numbers of bees and other pollinators keep dying across the globe, study after study continues to connect these deaths to neonicotinoid pesticides (A.K.A. "neonics"). With the science piling up, and other countries starting to take critical pollinator-saving action, here's a quick primer on all things neonics:

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!