Panelists and Collegiate Farm Bureau members at Food Evolution movie showing

Mariah Martin, left, member of the Collegiate Farm Bureau, serves as moderator of a panel discussion about “Food Evolution,” a film about genetically modified organisms. She is joined by, from left, Michael Bell, University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of community and environmental sociology; Kavin Senapathy, a contributor to "Forbes" and "Grounded Parents" magazines; Caitilyn Allen, UW-Madison professor of plant pathology; and Jordan Gaal, public-relations director of the Collegiate Farm Bureau.

“Food Evolution” is a movie set amidst a debate marked by fear, distrust and confusion – the controversy surrounding genetically modified organisms and food. The movie was shown Oct. 24 on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. The event was hosted by the Collegiate Farm Bureau at UW-Madison, UW-Madison Department of Plant Pathology, and the Food Research Institute at UW-Madison.

Jordan Gaal, public-relations director of the Collegiate Farm Bureau, introduced the movie and asked attendees if they were concerned about genetically modified foods and their health. Several film-goers expressed apprehension about genetic modification.

Following the movie a panel of food and agriculture specialists answered questions from the audience. Questions ranged from technology to science communication.

The panel was comprised of:

  • Caitilyn Allen, plant-pathology professor at UW-Madison
  • Michael Bell, professor of community and environmental sociology at UW-Madison, and director of the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems
  • Kavin Senapathy, co-founder of March against Myths, and regular contributor to Forbes and Grounded Parents magazines

“There’s so much more to think about than the movie has covered,” Senapathy said. “The movie isn’t here to convince you one way or another – it’s the beginning of a dialogue and I hope this is a start of that thinking process for all of you.”

One attendee asked what non-scientists or scientists-in-training could do to better communicate science. Bell said, “(Communicating science is) the importance of seeing knowledge as more than just facts, but also as a social relationship.”

Another attendee recounted serving in the Vietnam War, and had health complications from Agent Orange. He said he’s concerned about the herbicide glyphosate. Agent Orange was a toxic chemical used in warfare developed by many companies that are now developing agricultural technologies, he said.

Allen responded that glyphosate can disrupt pathways only in plants, not humans or animals.

“Say what you will about herbicides; you have to recognize that if people are no longer planting Roundup Ready (glyphosate) crops, then they’re going to be spraying more toxic herbicides,” she said.

Another film-goer asked about the broader implications of genetically modified organisms – the effect the technology has on the environment, ecological diversity and social inequality.

Bell said corn is over-produced in the United States; 40 percent is used on fuel alone. He said genetic modification focuses on production and profit in the United States, but does nothing for social equality.

Allen said, “What you said about corn is valid for the developed world, but one gains another perspective when talking with subsistence farmers in the tropics. For them, food is not about production. It’s about getting from one day to the next.”

Bell said, “I think we can both agree on one point. The goal is not to feed the world; the goal is to have a world which is fed.”

The Collegiate Farm Bureau is a UW-Madison student organization acting as a voice for agriculture, affiliated with the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation. Visit www.foodevolutionmovie.com or contact jgaal@wisc.edu or 920-222-0413 for more information.