A fact-finding film first released in the United States in June this year was screened in Edinburgh recently in an attempt to challenge stereotypes and scaremongering surrounding Genetic Modification (GM) and what it offers agriculture. 

International food technologists in the US made the documentary about the importance of science-based decision-making, encouraging meaningful dialogue around how to feed a growing population. The film, ‘Food Evolution’ presented some strong scientific facts regarding GM and exposed the consequences of making decisions based on myths and fear. 

According to the film, one of the biggest success stories to date for GM was where biotechnology provided food security to a wilting economy on the island of Hawaii, which is famous for its papaya industry. 

Papaya ringspot had nearly wiped the crop out of existence by the 1990s but Hawaiian-born scientist, Dennis Gonsalves, developed a GM papaya, known as the rainbow papaya, which was resistant to the virus. 

Today, GM papaya accounts for 90% of the crop’s production on the island. “Without biotechnology, there’s no papaya industry. Simple as that,” said Dennis Gonsalves, in the film. 

As protests against GM food grows, the Rainbow papaya is frequently cited by scientists as a transgenic success story. In the film, experts on both sides of the argument debated the pros and cons of GM. 

Critics might label the documentary as pro-GM, however the aim is to deliver a pro-science approach where almost every major scientific institution has deemed the process as safe, if not safer, than any other seed breeding technique available. 

“All criticisms against GMOs can be largely rejected on strictly scientific criteria,” the Institut de France Academie des Sciences, was quoted in the film.

Another success was in Uganda, which has the second largest banana industry in the world after India. 

It came under attack by banana bacterial wilt in 2001 and it has devastated the country’s banana industry since. With 75% of farmers growing bananas for food and income security, there was a dire need to develop a cure similar to the one used in Hawaii. 

Crop scientists at the National Agricultural Research Organisation took 15 years searching ways to eradicate the wilt and have finally developed GM matooke bananas that have shown 100% resistance to BBW. Without this development, Uganda would have had little hope of recouping its annual loss of $953m in banana sales.

The director of the film, Scott Hamilton Kennedy, explained the international food technologists’ reasons behind wanting him to shoot ‘Food Evolution’: “As food scientists, who were tired of seeing their work denigrated and diminished by less detail-oriented, if often well-intentioned, media and activists that focused on fear-mongering over facts, their overarching goal for this project was to promote a more science-based conversation about food, and not to advance any particular agenda.”