Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 17, 2005 8:55 am 
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Location: California/NYC
Premiered at Film Forum in New York October 2005.

Another essential documentary

Nothing is a more intimate part of life than food. The domination of farming and control of food production by large corporations is another form of globalization with horrific possibilities and can sensibly be viewed in conjunction with two other recent documentaries, both of which I recommend highly, Mondovino (about the globalization of wine) and The Corporation (about the trans-national domination of large firms). Maybe we all ought to give it up and be genetically modified humans and wear giant bar codes. Sometimes that seems to be the way things are going. Again the USA is the culprit and the main trademark is Monsanto's.

Monsanto is the chemical company that brought us DDT and Napalm, then developed GM (genetically modified) plants/seeds to resist their pesticides/herbicides so you have to spray Monsanto-supplied products with Monsanto-supplied poisons to kill off everything else around. Organic farmers simply look for resistant strains of plants and small, indigenous farming favors biodiversity -- i.e., lots of different kinds of corn (as in Mexico) that can serve lots of different uses and taste good too.

Before this development farming had already tended to go mono and big in the nineteenth century, especially in North America, which is a dangerous and unnatural way of farming and risks the most basic horror of food production: famine. The Irish potato famine happened because the Irish were already cultivating only one kind of potato, one that was not resistant to a particular pest which wiped out the whole crop. With biodiversity -- with the old traditional kind of farming which favors the use of many different strains and seeds for everything grown -- this kind of disaster does not happen, and local small farmers develop strains that resist the pests. But as farming went big and mono-crop, crops became more vulnerable, and farmers started giving in to the imagined need to buy artificial fertilizers and pesticides, thus creating a cycle of dependence and biodegrading of the soil.

Monsanto et al. also bought up all the other seed companies and began patenting their seeds. Being able to patent a living thing is one of the insanities that could permit a re-feudalization of existence with corporations the new lords and masters. The big companies seek to eliminate the many strains of plants that were already being eliminated anyway. That way they can control what remains.

Monsanto claims to be crusading to end world hunger but its actions and products have done nothing for any consumer. It has also, as it turns out, done nothing for any farmer, and has proved to be the enemy of farmers, even large ones. When its GM corn (or soy) seeds blow onto the land of farmers using seeds they've developed, Koons shows, it has moved in in both Canada and the US and sued the farmers. If "Terminator" seeds -- which are designed so plants produce once, then die sterile -- are ever able to infiltrate Third World crops, the results would be dire.

Another issue is the danger (or for taste the uselessness ) of genetic modification. It uses virus methods to infiltrate unlike organisms (i.e., to put fish genes into a plant; Jeffrey M. Smith of the book Seeds of Deception has talked and written extensively about this) and the results are unpredictable and potentially dangerous. These GM monsters, which have hardly been tested at all or regulated by the US government, have gotten into US packaged products, causing severe allergic reactions in some people. In all this the US Patent Office and the government agencies, notably the FDA, have been hand in glove with the GM corporations; there is a revolving door linking officials of government with the GM corporations.

Meanwhile there's a bright side, actually several -- though this side unfortunately comes only briefly at the end of Koons' documentary. First of all Europe and other countries, including Japan, have adamantly resisted the introduction of US GM foods into their markets. GM foods are only a small percentage of the total even in the US. In the US, farmer's markets have increased 78% in just the past few years. GM foods are not dominant and America is going organic. But it's not ever a sure thing that grass roots will triumph. Once again the US is the big problem as with global warming. Ms. Garcia, who narrates her film, has presented her information without stridency. This is not a brilliant or deeply personal documentary like Jonathan Nossiter's "Mondovino," but it does its job and does it effectively.

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