Francis Nanzin is a Ugandan subsistence farmer whose crops are among the half of Uganda’s banana trees that have been wiped out by a bacterial disease known as banana wilt. In Food Evolution, narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Francis’s face lights up as local scientists show her the disease-resistant banana trees they have created through genetic modification. A moment later, she is crestfallen as she realizes that her family will continue to struggle until the Ugandan government declares genetically modified organisms (GMOs) legal to grow.
In Food Evolution, scientists, journalists, and farmers describe GMO success stories: the virus-resistant rainbow papaya that has revitalized Hawaii’s papaya industry and Roundup-Ready seeds that have improved crop production and decreased the use of toxic fertilizer from Missouri to South Africa. Interspersed with these interviews is footage of passionate anti-GMO activists (each pointedly identified by their nonscientific job title and credentials).
As the scientists diligently refute anti-GMO claims with data, the film explores the motivations of the parents, community leaders, and supposed environmentalists who are determined to disregard scientific consensus. Information overload, confirmation bias, the need for certainty, and fear emerge as the driving forces behind the anti-GMO movement, but the film acknowledges that most people who are wary of genetic modification likely have good intentions and goals similar to scientists: ensuring access to a safe, sustainable food supply.
The film ends with a few positive updates: Some bans such as the one in Uganda are close to being lifted, and a debate in New York City has persuaded many undecided members of the audience to support GM technology. However, the challenge of convincing people of the safety and value of GMOs remains daunting. Progress will require understanding skeptics and knowing the facts. On both counts, Food Evolution is a good place to start.