The title alone, Genetic Chile, sounds unnatural. What happened to the seeds as they naturally appear? Weren’t they good enough for crops and harvesting and selling the final product on the markets? Europe agrees, saying that if any food has been genetically modified in any way, no matter if no foreign DNA was used, then it’s a genetically modified organism and therefore banned. At New Mexico State University, which was given funding by the state legislature for research into the creation of a genetically modified chile pepper, Dr. Stephen Hanson, Ph.D, doesn’t so much try to convince a rightfully skeptical Chris Dudley that genetically modified organisms are safe and are the way to go to extend the food supply, but just goes through the motions of explaining the science, thinking that that will be enough to convince anyone.
But then you have a monstrous corporation called Monsanto that owns a great deal of the world’s seed suppliers, that sees nothing wrong with Cisgenics, isolating and then reintroducing a gene from the same species, involving a process that includes foreign bacteria, antibiotics, and test tubes. On top of that, of all the sacred hullabaloo corporations like Monsanto have tried to make about the safety of GMOs, those crops are only used for animal feed and fuel. Animals eat those crops which very likely contain antibiotics, and then it ends up in our systems too. As writer/director Dudley states in his narration, consumer demand for GMOs “is virtually nonexistent.” All this effort these corporations have expended, decimating the livelihoods of honest-to-harvest farmers in pursuit of their own dark, disturbing path toward mega-profits, and there’s nothing to show for it, nothing that the public is using, which is good for the public because it sounds unappealing enough as it is, but those farmers were put through a lot, cut down as the Monsanto machine whizzed by with blades out and spinning and screaming through their own crops. Dudley tells of farmers being intimidated by private investigators working for Monsanto, who demand that farmers turn their seeds over to them, and some are even undercover during this process, trying to foster disturbances at meetings. We worry enough about corporations as it is, and here’s one that seems to go about its morally bankrupt business unchecked. In fact, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has connections with Monsanto. The corporation seems to influence agricultural practices in the United States, beyond just putting farmers out of work. Genuine farmers. The ones who actually work hard in the fields, and not with test tubes.
This is as much that can be learned from Genetic Chile, giving some attention to the impact that GMOs are having on the red (ripened) and green (unripened) chile peppers that are everything to New Mexican cuisine, as important to them as the potato is in Idaho. It’s no wonder consumers don’t demand this because who would want something that’s so inherently unnatural in their bodies? At least there’s the hope that that attitude remains, but it sure doesn’t help the farmers who have lost those battles now.
It’s all sobering information, but to learn it, to process it, that’s the chore in Genetic Chile. Dudley is a near-somnambulistic narrator as he presents quotes from various publications, scientific and otherwise, gives time to talking heads on the university level, and gives facts about the dangers of genetically modified organisms in the marketplace, while others passionately argue against the idea that New Mexico should have a genetically modified chile. Even with the North American Free Trade Agreement and border security having cut the chile harvest by two-thirds, the fight still needs to go on strong because this is just as much a danger. A genetically modified chile isn’t an actual chile. It didn’t come from the earth.
If this documentary is presented to like-minded, professional thinkers on this subject, then all the facts and figures and quotes and analysis from Hanson would be fine, not to mention the passion exuded by Jeffrey Smith, author of Genetic Roulette, who we see in footage at a presentation arguing against Monsanto and genetically modified anything, making a lot of sense, whereas it takes time to grasp what Dudley is after. Not because the facts are so confusing, but because there are no stories here, nothing deeper to show us the true impact. The efforts of Monsanto to make GMOs are profiled, but what is Monsanto? How in the world did it start? How long has this been going on? Dudley seems more comfortable interviewing university people, because we hear from no chile farmers about how all this is affecting them, nor do we hear from any state legislature politicians that supported New Mexico State University’s funding for research. What was their rationale?
This is one of those documentaries where, to make the biggest impact, there should have a presentation on the gut level, personally, show the average person how it affects others. The ivory tower of universities is fine since those professors and others have studied these issues for years, but it shouldn’t be the only source. I wanted to know more about those farmers, the hardships they’re going through. And is Monsanto really that foreboding that their story could not be told? Or is it just too messy at this point? Nevertheless, the more information given to the public, the more hope there is for a better-educated, attentive public. That there is no demand for it is good, though. It’s a start.
Cinema Libre Studio’s DVD release of Genetic Chile includes the full interviews with Dr. Stephen Hanson, and Professor Gil Seralini of Caen University in France via Skype. It’s considerate of Chris Dudley and Cinema Libre Studio to provide the full interviews, to give more information to viewers, besides the pieces of these interviews shown in the documentary. There’s also a trailer for Genetic Chile and a few other releases, including Water Wars, narrated by Martin Sheen.
Genetic Chile is a good start to expose these unnatural scientific practices, but there is much more of the story to be told, and I hope one day, Dudley goes into the field, to the people, to make an even bigger impact on public reception. This is just the beginning.