But more than that, the film is a love story about cooking and gardening -- and the importance of regaining control over where our food comes from.
When Aube Giroux was growing up in Nova Scotia, Canada, her mother had a big vegetable garden in the backyard. That garden was the family's grocery store. It provided fresh, organic ingredients for every meal and taught Giroux to love food; but it was also a form of activism for her mother, who believed fiercely in people's right to control the source of their nourishment.
Once Giroux left home, however, she realized that putting food on the table is not so simple as it had been in childhood. In the mid-1990s the first genetically modified (GM) foods hit the market and have continued to proliferate over the years. They are now found in four main crops in Canada -- soybeans, corn, sugar beet, and canola -- most of which are used for animal feed, but are also found in 70 percent of processed foods.
Influenced by her mother's disapproval of such biotechnology, as well as a scathing report published in 2001 by the Royal Society that said Canada was failing to regulate GMs properly and needed to fix its regulatory system in order to align with the precautionary principle (which states new technologies should not be approved while there is still uncertainty about long term safety), Giroux began investigating, camera in hand, to learn what's really going on.
The result is a new documentary film, 'Modified,' which looks at the pressing question of why Canada (and the United States) does not label GM foods, despite the fact that 88 percent of Canadians want it, 64 other countries require it, and GMs have been labeled in Europe since the 2004. The act of labeling aligns with democracy; it grants citizens the right to know what's in their food, and yet, for some reason, efforts to make labeling mandatory are repeatedly shot down by government officials who claim it would "create fear."
While traveling around Canada and the U.S., Giroux discovers a disturbingly strong connection between the food industry and government that puts farmers and citizens at a great disadvantage. Biotech companies selling GM products hurl millions of dollars at members of parliament (senators in the U.S.) and advertising campaigns to ensure that their patented seeds and the accompanying chemicals required to grow them continue to dominate North American agriculture. So tight-lipped are officials about this relationship that Giroux was unable even to secure an interview with Health Canada, the nation's food regulating body, after months of trying.
As one scientist tells Giroux, the priority of GM seed companies like Monsanto and Bayer is to make money. Molecular biologist Gilles-Eric Séralini is quoted in the film:
"There's incredible wealth and power to be had from gaining ownership of the plants that fed humanity for 11,000 years, simply because one artificial gene was added. So for this reason alone, one can be against eating GMOs."
The insistence on GM crops being necessary to feed the human masses and reduce pesticide use is emotional hype used to mask the companies' true goal of profit. In fact the opposite has been shown to be true of GM crops. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and an investigation by the New York Times have shown that GMs have never raised yields, and pesticide use has increased since these crops were introduced.
What makes 'Modified' different -- and truly delightful -- is the footage of Giroux, and sometimes her mother, cooking wonderful foods throughout the film. Ingredients are gleaned from the orchard or picked in the garden. Anyone who appreciates good homemade food will feel their mouth watering at the sight of lilac-cream tarts, garlic scape pesto, tomato galette, and squash cornbread being made. Giroux is a food writer whose blog won a Saveur food video award and has been nominated for two James Beard awards. Clearly she is a talented woman who cares deeply about what she eats and spends time with the ingredients she loves, all of which makes her quest more meaningful.
'Modified' offers an excellent window into the world of GMs and the effect they are having on our food supply chain. For anyone in Canada and the U.S. (or anywhere, really) this is a film worth watching. As Giroux's mother would say, "With every bite of food we eat, we are making a choice about the kind of world we want to live in and the kind of agriculture we want to support."
Learn more here. Trailer below: