Soybeans, corn, cotton, rapeseed … For more than 20 years, GMOs have continued to spread across the planet to cover more than 10% of cultivated land in the world. They are the subject of very strong contestation, provoking passionate debates. But where is the truth about genetically modified organisms? Under the guise of a politico-scientific thriller, the documentary by Frédéric Castaignède GMO – Lies and Truths broadcast this Tuesday at 8:50 p.m. on Art tries to dissect the received ideas on these much decried genetically modified organisms.
“Crazy soybean alert”
The controversy over GMOs splashed France in the 90s, when the first transgenic plants from the United States began to arrive in France. “Greenpeace launches major campaign and article by Release really ignited the powder “, testifies Professor Pierre-Henri Gouyon, of the Natural History Museum.” Crazy soybean alert, the arrival in Europe of the first genetically modified vegetable causes controversy “, could one read in One of the French daily. In the illustration photo, we could see Greenpeace activists dressed in white coats and the X of the current series “The X-Files.” This controversy over mad soybeans came in the middle of the so-called mad cow. Consumers then lost confidence in institutions to protect them in the food sector. “I think that if there had not been this conjunction, there probably would not have been such strong debates” , says Pierre-Henri Gouyon.
At the heart of the battle, the giant Monsanto and its glyphosate, considered responsible for the emergence of super weeds in American fields. In Argentina, herbicides are sprayed by air in fields sometimes close to homes, raising serious concerns about human health. According to official statistics, the cultivated area has increased by 50% for 20 years and the volume of phytosanitary products sold by more than 850%, says this educational documentary. On March 20, 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer – the WHO reference agency – published a scientific assessment of 5 pesticides, including glyphosate. “Our working group concluded that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen,” says Kathryn Guyton of the research center. To which the director of the Monsanto agency in Argentina retorts that “other agencies have concluded that there is no link between glyphosate and cancer”. And Monsanto did not fail to raise a tone at the end of the publication of this study: “Monsanto is outraged by the WHO report on the risk of cancer. Monsanto requests the withdrawal of the report which establishes a link between herbicide and cancer “.
“A legal scandal”
Exploring all the issues linked to the cultivation of GMOs, including the risks to biodiversity, this captivating documentary does not fail to mention that GMOs are not quite plants like any other. These seeds are patented and protected by intellectual property rights that require farmers to buy them back every year. “What I grow in my fields does not belong to me”, denounces the son of an American farmer. The stakes are such for Monsanto that in June 2000, the giant sued a Canadian farmer whose traditional soybeans were contaminated with transgenic soybeans. The company accuses him of having violated its patent law by reseeding its seeds, without a license or royalty. The Canadian judges end up agreeing with Monsanto and the farmer is found guilty of counterfeiting. Which constitutes “a legal scandal”, according to Professor Pierre-Henri Gouyon.
While no official epidemiological study has been conducted on genetically modified food, second-generation GMOs are beginning to hit the market, including golden rice designed to alleviate dietary deficiencies of vitamin A in poor countries. At the same time, research projects are being carried out on genetically modified animals. In Argentina, a cow unique in the world was born in 2011 to produce milk that would have the same properties as breast milk. Rosita now lives in an isolated and perfectly secure enclosure. Since November 2015, the American health authorities have finally authorized the marketing of a genetically modified salmon renamed by its detractors the “Frankenfish”, without any mandatory labeling. In the end, for consumers, it is impossible to know what they are buying, or even what they will eat.
>> GMO – Lies and Truths, a documentary by Frédéric Castaignède (2016), broadcast Tuesday April 10 at 8:50 p.m. on Arte.