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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?
Secrets and Lies of the Corporate Food Industry

By Tench Phillips, co-owner Naro Cinema

Small family farms have been struggling for years against the forces of giant agribusiness but their battle for survival keeps escalating. As if the mission of going organic is not difficult enough for farmers, now there’s the distinct possibility that seeds from adjacent farms that use GMOs (genetically modified organisms) will cross-pollinate and contaminate their crops. And to add insult to injury, these farmers can be sued by Monsanto and  the other big seed companies on the grounds that they are using patented seeds without paying for them. It’s a truly Orwellian scenario without recourse since the courts have consistently sided with the corporate giants. And the USDA (U.S. Dept of Agriculture) has failed to provide any real solutions for small farmers except to force them to buy crop insurance.

The worldwide monetization of genetic material has already happened without our knowledge or consent. Today about half of all the land used for crops in the U.S are planted with GMOs – mostly corn, cotton, and soybeans. Mainstream journalism is great at creating false equivalence by giving the opposing corporate point of view. As a result many people are confused about whether there are actual harmful effects from the use of GMO crops.

But new scientific studies are blowing huge holes in Monsanto’s case for the safety of  “Roundup-ready GMOs” (plants that are engineered to be impervious to herbicides). These reports provide evidence that Monsanto’s Roundup causes fatal, chronic kidney disease. Other studies now show that Roundup persists for years before breaking down, contaminating our soil, air, and water. And contrary to years of industry claims, the use of GMOs has only marginally increased crop yields while substantially increasing the use of costly petrochemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.

A new U.N. study entitled Wake Up Before It’s Too Late concludes that small-scale, sustainable organic farming is the only viable way to achieve a future for humanity. But when will the FDA and EPA stop supporting agribusiness and start putting public health before corporate profits?

Even if government agencies were to effectively regulate industry, the big process food companies like Pepsi, Kraft, and Nestle spend billions in advertising to greenwash their practices and products – effectively hoodwinking the public. They spend even more to fund the big campaigns to scare the public into voting against state initiatives to require the labeling and identification of GMOs in food products. It’s a rigged game and the biosphere is the loser.

But concerned citizens still can organize and educate others about our compromised food supply and the need to support local farmers. There are some important documentaries coming to the Naro that address some of these grave concerns. GMO OMGshows Wed, March 19 with speakers and discussion. This very personal indie film is from filmmaker Jeremy Seifert who is based in Asheville, N.C. For years he and his family would question the health and safety of engineered crops. He gradually comes to realize that he must make his own personal journey to seek answers. His film takes him to Haiti, Paris, Norway, and the headquarters of Monsanto.

For our post-film discussion we initially had some difficulty in finding a local academic researcher willing to speak out on the issues being addressed in the movie. This may have something to do with the fact that university research budgets are so heavily subsidized by corporate funding. But fortunately we now have a knowledgeable teacher and researcher from EVMS, recently retired biochemist Mimi Rosenthal who will speak about her work following the film. We will also hear from Bev Sell of Five Points Community Farm Market and local food activists.

Filmmaker Mark Devries’s brave new film Speciesism is not only an investigation into animal agriculture and the industrial exploitation of factory-farmed animals but also a philosophical inquiry into the very nature of animal consciousness. Mark will be coming to town to attend the screening at the Naro on Wednesday, April 16 to introduce and take questions after his film.

The title of Devries’s film is a term that first appeared in Pete Singer’s groundbreaking book from the seventies, “Animal Liberation”. Singer argued that no justifications exist for considering humans more important than members of other species.  Over the years his thesis has inspired a growing movement of those who love and respect all animals as sentient beings. It’s a self-evident truth that our family pets experience joy, depression, and pain. But are they any different from the animals that live in cages in windowless factory warehouses for their entire truncated lives? These farm animals have no legal rights and are treated as machines in a cruel, inhumane system.

Animal rights activism has mushroomed over the years. But since the passage by Congress in 2006 of The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), activists are in jeopardy of felony charges for aiding or rescuing farm animals. And incredibly, even 
the production of a film like Speciesism or the sole act of screening a film that may hurt the profits of an animal-based business could qualify as a terrorist offense.

But it gets worse. Seven states have enacted “ag-gag” laws that make it unlawful to even photograph the inhumane operations of factory farms or “fur ranches”. Think of the chilling effect on the undercover investigations funded by such animal rights groups as PETA. These draconian laws in “the land of the free” are enough to motivate even those who aren’t politically inclined to understand the need for a new paradigm that excludes corporate money from influencing political power at the state and federal level.

You would think that the subjects of these two films are so profound and essential to our way of life that the corporate press would be scrambling to investigate these stories. And yet there is a vacuum in the media when it comes to the truly important social issues of our day. But this is to be expected when the advertising dollars that big media receives from agribusiness and the fast-food industry runs into billions of dollars.

Until true media democracy breaks out in this country, we will remain an ill-informed, unenlightened, and an unorganized collection of “consumers”. But in the meantime we can join citizen groups like The Organic Consumers Association and connect to true public media like “Democracy Now!” to learn more about the successes of democratic movements in other countries.

Showing in our “Faith In Film” series on Sunday, April 6 is Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It’s the fiftieth anniversary of this brilliant and timeless political satire. Director Stanley Kubrick’s plot concerns a paranoid Air Force General who is fearful that the Russians are fluoridating America's drinking water. In an act of pure insanity, he unleashes a B-52 H-Bomb attack on the Soviets, and a frantic President and Joint Chiefs of Staff must somehow find a way to stop it. The great Peter Sellers stars as three signature characters. And in surely their best comic roles, George C. Scott plays General “Buck” Turgidson, Slim Pickens plays Major “King” Kong, and Sterling Hayden plays General Jack D. Ripper. The series is hosted by Scott Hennessy, a cineaste and the pastor of St. Paul's Episcopal Church. He will introduce the film and facilitate a discussion afterwards.

Reprinted from Veer magazine 3/15/14.

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