GMO OMG is a heartfelt documentary following father and filmmaker Jeremy Seifert as he drags his family, both figuratively and literally, through a journey of discovery, hoping to land on the truth about GMOs. Genetically-modified organisms are a highly controversial part of our food supply of late, especially if you live here in California where the discussion has turned political. We recently attended a screening of GMO OMG and fell in love with the stars of the film: Seifert’s sons, Scout and Finn. No one doles out the truth like a a four-year-old and in their quest for the truth about GMOs, it was Scout who laid out the facts best: he is concerned by the GMOs in his bowl of chocolate ice cream, but it tastes really good and “it’s not making me dead still.” We asked executive producer Jill Latiano Howerton who, along with Elizabeth Kucinich and the producer of Seifert’s first film, DIVE, Joshua Kunau, supported Jeremy Seifert in the creation of this thought-provoking film. We wanted to hear a little more about the basics of the GMO issue and to find out what they’ve learned in their journey to bring this issue into the spotlight…
The Chalkboard Magazine: Just so we’re all on the same page, would you tell us: What are GMOs and why should we be concerned about them?
Jill Latiano Howerton: GMO stands for genetically modified organism. A genetically modified organism is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. Genetic modification involves the mutation, insertion or deletion of genes. There are two reasons we should be concerned about GMOs. 1) They are in about 85% of the processed foods we eat, yet very few studies have been conducted on their safety. The studies that have been done led to the market release of GMO seeds, and were only 3 months in length and were done by the same companies that produce the GMO seeds. 2) GMO seeds call for a much greater use of chemical pesticides and herbicides that have been proven to destroy human cells at low levels and have been found in our air, rivers, rain water, and, most recently, in human urine. There have been independent, peer-reviewed studies that suggest that there could be harmful effects to human health caused by the use of GMOs, and the chemical pesticides and herbicides that go along with them, but again, there has not been enough research done and the jury is still out.
TCM: How was this film born? It seems to have happened so organically…
JLH: This film was born out of our director Jeremy Seifert’s curiosity and passion to find the truth about the food he was eating and feeding his family. He had heard a little about GMOs, but was truly driven to make this film when he heard the story about farmers in Haiti burning Monsanto seeds in protest when they received a generous donation after the devastating earthquake in 2010. He wondered what these Haitian farmers knew that we didn’t. This led him on a journey to find out the truth about our food and to make a film that would educate others about what the agriculture industry doesn’t want us to know.
TCM: With all the food preferences and restrictions folks have these days – organic, gluten-free, vegan, plant-based, raw – concerns about GMOs probably appear last in line. The film talks about that a bit. Why do you think that is? JLH: I think it is the lack of knowledge. The corporations controlling the GMO-seed business have spent millions of dollars to keep the public in the dark. I believe the more people get educated on this topic, the more they will demand non-GMO foods, or, at the very least, labeling. We already see this happening with food companies voluntarily getting non-GMO certified through the Non-GMO Project.
TCM: One thing that stuck with me about GMO OMG was how consistent the feedback seemed to be from people of all walks of life that we should ‘at least’ know when our food is genetically modified and have the choice to opt out. Talk to us about what you’ve seen there…
JLH: Yes. I don’t think anyone can with argue that. Are GMOs safe or not? We could debate it for days. But, whether we have a right to know what is in our food and to have the freedom to choose whether or not we consume a particular product? That’s a no brainer.
TCM: GMOs have received a lot of attention in the last year or two, especially here in California. What’s the goal of all this public interest?
JLH: Yes, I think Prop 37, which was on the ballot in November 2012, really started a necessary conversation here in California about GMOs and their safety. The goal is to educate people about what is going on within our dysfunctional agriculture system and to give them back the freedom of choice that they are most likely are not even aware was taken away from them.
TCM: What do you personally wish to come from this film?
JLH: My personal wish is that our film awakens the masses to the truth about their food and inspires them to demand transparency from the corporations that are feeding us and that control the future of agriculture. We as a society need to demand that agriculture systems be put in place in our country that are sustainable as well as beneficial to our environment and our people.
TCM: What has been the most compelling thing you’ve learned in making GMO OMG?
JLH: Gosh, that’s a hard one. There are SO many things that I’ve learned throughout this process. I think for me, the thing that really hit me hard was learning the sad truth about how the American people can be kept in the dark about something as important as the food they are eating. The fact that GMOs were introduced into our food supply in the late 90’s, without sufficient testing of their safety, and that we are just now learning about it, blows my mind. It is a sad day when we cannot trust the government agencies that have been put in place to protect us. But with the revolving door between corporations and policy makers, I’ve learned that I cannot rely on these agencies to have myself and my family’s best interest at heart. I now know that I have to do my own research and due diligence to make an informed decision about what is best for my family….and we choose not to eat GMOs.
TCM: Documentary film has been an excellent tool for education regarding our food system – we’ve loved Hungry For Change, Fat Sick and Nearly Dead and others. Do you have any favorite resources? Any plans to make more movies along these lines?
JLH: Those are all great films. Most recently, obviously, I have been sharing GMO OMG as my main resource to introduce people on this topic. I like how our film, unlike some other documentaries, isn’t just interview after interview set up in people’s offices. Instead it is a beautifully shot film, with moving music, that follows our director on a journey with his family to find the truth. You learn through watching him learn, which I think makes the information really accessible. No plans right now for another doc on this topic, as we are still putting a lot of energy into getting GMO OMG out there. I do know that I will continue to be an activist who enjoys sharing what I know, so we will see how that manifests itself in the future.
Watch GMO OMG for yourself:
The next screenings of GMO OMG will be in Georgetown, Jan. 31 through Feb. 6 and in Denver, Colorado, February 7th. Opening night in DC includes a Q&A with director, Jeremy Seifert, Elizabeth Kucinich, and executive director of Food & Water Watch, Wenonah Hauter.
If you’re in the LA area, stay tuned for more news about future screenings here in LA, plus the release of the documentary on iTunes later this spring!