College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)


Film Explores the Science Behind GMOs

The Food Evolution documentary, which tackles the science and debates surrounding the topic of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food, was screened before more than 200 guests at the John Bews building on the Pietermaritzburg campus.

The screening was made possible by the South African Association for Food Science and Technology (SAAFoST) and co-ordinated by the College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science (CAES). The intention behind the screening was to create a forum for improved awareness and understanding of the science of GMOs and their role in food security, and to spark questions and discussions around various views on the contentious topic.

Guests included academic and support staff from UKZN, students, industry representatives and professional scientists.

The film, directed by Academy Award-nominated director, Scott Hamilton Kennedy, and narrated by pre-eminent science communicator, Neil deGrasse Tyson, explored the controversy surrounding GMOs by examining cases from Hawaiian papaya groves, banana farms in Uganda to the cornfields of Iowa in the United States. It included emotionally charged debates and expounded on science around the subject.

According to producers, the film demonstrates how easily misinformation, confusion and fear can overwhelm objective analysis.

Food Evolution features input of plant breeding, agricultural economics, environmental activism, journalism, genomics, biotechnology, nutrition, and science communication experts, including Mark Lynas, Michael Pollan, Alison van Eenennaam, Jeffrey Smith, Andrew Kimbrell, Vandana Shiva, Robert Fraley, Marion Nestle and Bill Nye. It also includes views of farmers and scientists from around the world and separates the hype and emotion from the science and data to unravel the debate around food and help audiences reach their own conclusions.

Following the screening, a discussion took place with Professor Mark Laing and Professor Hussein Shimelis of the African Centre for Crop Improvement and Professor Augustine Gubba of Plant Pathology answering questions posed. Much of the discussion centred around questions of issues surrounding the use of GMOs such as ethics, legislation and ownership. Professor Steve Worth of the African Centre for Food Security facilitated the discussion panel.

Representatives from SAAFoST congratulated UKZN on the screening; lauding the team’s enthusiasm, team spirit, co-operation and effectiveness in hosting an exceptional event.

CAES Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head, Professor Albert Modi, noted that the world learns differently today and remarked on the value of films such as Food Evolution to extend learning from the classroom as well as inspire debate and the posing of questions in University programmes.

Words and photograph: Christine Cuénod