The do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do posturing of the political and cultural elite has long been a sore spot for most of us. Being lectured by prominent people is a torment we Americans silently endure, along with airport security and Maroon 5 albums. The rich and famous preach about weighty issues of the day, usually to assuage their guilt for being rich and famous, with little regard for the potential hypocrisy of their message.
Their duplicity is even more acute when they try to tackle scientific issues. Take, as an example, the annual World Economic Forum held earlier this year. Business, political and entertainment leaders from around the globe gathered in Davos, Switzerland to discuss urgent international concerns such as climate change. But rather than use commercial airlines to travel, about 1,700 private jets descended on local airports, carrying the elites, their families and their entourages. It’s hard to calculate the carbon footprint created by the convoy of luxury aircraft, but suffice it to say, the jet-setting did nothing to reverse global warming.
Many among these movers and shakers now appear to have GMOs in their crosshairs. Taking a cue from people whom I refer to as the culinary elite–celebrity chefs, food writers and organic executives – the entertainment elite, with its epicenter in Hollywood, is now poised to promote the myth of genetically modified food as modern-day monster.
In 2013, filmmaker Laurie David (An Inconvenient Truth, Fed Up) was a consulting producer to the film, “GMO OMG.” The documentary style propaganda movie follows a man and his “journey in search of answers about genetically modified organisms.” The film—while critical of the deep pockets behind Big Food and biotech–was heavily sponsored by the deep pockets of the organic industry. Although it claimed to uncover the truth about GMOs, it was instead widely-regarded as a one-sided fright fest (read New Yorker review here). It was dutifully bestowed several film festival awards.
Now a pop-political thriller entitled “Consumed” has been released, premiering at the recent Los Angeles Film Festival. The Festival provided this summary of the movie:
Set in the complex world of genetically modified food, this dramatic thriller intertwines the stories of an organic farmer and a biotechnology CEO with the quest of a single mother working to uncover the cause of her son’s mysterious illness.
The movie features a mom in search of answers to the cause of her child’s illness and begins to suspect—you guessed it—GMOs. The good guy: an organic farmer. The bad guy: evil geneticists. The plot: the food industry has financed all the research being done on GMOs so all of the thousands of studies showing that genetically modified foods are as safe or safer than conventional or organic foods are not be trusted. According to the account in Variety, our heroine is “tipped to the fact that studies on more harmful effects have been suppressed.” In a radio interview about the movie, the lead character is compared to Erin Brockovich and the film’s producer quickly confirms that “[Brockovich has] seen the movie and endorsed it, which is really, really exciting.”
The revelation about allegedly tainted research makes a more compelling screenplay than reality. In fact, there have been more than 2,500 studies on genetically modified foods, and about half of them were independently funded researched. The European Union alone has spent $300 million over the past decade to research GMO safety, culminating in the summary document in “A Decade of EU Funded GMO Research”. Here is what the report concluded:
…The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies.
Cinema isn’t the only medium used by Hollywood to promote anti-GMO sentiment. Many celebs lent their star power to TV ads in support of California’s failed Prop 37 in 2012 that would’ve required labeling of GMO food. Others stars—such as Michael J. Fox, brother-in-law of foodie writer and GM foe Michael Pollan—are featured in short videos on the “Just Label It” website.
But you know you’re in big trouble when geriatric rocker and professional agitator Neil Young writes songs about you. Later this month, Young will release a concept album entitled “The Monsanto Years.” Suddenly, a man who’s admitted to abusing his body with drugs and alcohol for four decades, is afraid of being poisoned by foods grown from GM seeds.
The album features a song urging people to boycott Starbucks because the coffee giant belongs to the Grocers Manufacturing Association that is challenging Vermont’s mandatory labeling law. “A Rockstar Bucks a Coffee House” is a stream of consciousness tune: “I want a cup of coffee but I don’t want a GMO. I’d like to start my day off without helping Monsanto.” Young accuses “fascist politicians” and “chemical giants” for walking arm-in-arm. The message is as off-tune as the singer’s vocals and as humorous as the song’s garage band-feel video.
And last month, “Just Label It” released a public service announcement around Mother’s Day starring celebrity moms who support labeling GMOs. The spot features actresses who promise to protect their little ones from the lurking dangers of genetically modified food. “We pledge to keep you safe from the big things we can see and the little things too small for anyone to see” (an odd promise since this is an impossible task for any parent). One actress mentions “monsters…imagined and real.”
The message is less about labeling and more about the purported health risks of genetically modified food. Now, I know the mom card is a powerful trump card; I’ve used it a few times myself. But how seriously can you take the health admonitions of celebrities with implants and injections? At least two of the featured actresses—Molly Sims and Sharon Osbourne—have admitted to using Botox, derived from one of the most toxic and deadly bacteria known to man: botulinum toxin. According to a BBC report, “it is the most poisonous substance known to man. A couple of teaspoons would be enough to kill everyone in the UK. A couple of kilos would kill every human on earth.” The FDA warns that Botox can cause symptoms related to botulism such as double vision to trouble swallowing or breathing.
Yet around the same time the “Just Label It” spot was released, Simms was interviewed about her new book where she reveals her use of Botox every three to six months. According to the interview, she began the injections in her early 30s. There’s nothing wrong with using Botox; I’ve used it once. But the use of this lethal substance to rid beautiful women like Molly Simms of frown lines is proof of the dual purpose of science. An herbicide that might be fatal to weeds or pesticide that kills off a corn borer can have no effect on humans. The bottom line is that it’s disingenuous to issue sweeping generalizations that biotechnology is unsafe when you’re filling your face with potentially deadly toxins at the same time.
Sharon Osbourne not only relies on science to improve her looks but for her health as well. She has spent about $250,000 on plastic surgery over the last few decades, including breast implants and years of Botox use. “There’s not much I haven’t had tweaked, stretched, peeled, lasered, veneered, enhanced or removed altogether,” she admits.
Ironically, a serious health scare led her to appreciate the wonders of genetics, the very science she selectively slams in the Just Label It spot. Both she and her husband have gone through extensive genetic testing to determine their risk of deadly diseases like cancer. The tests revealed she has a genetic predisposition for colon, breast and ovarian cancer as well as Alzheimer’s disease.
Turns out her husband, Ozzy, seems to be a genetically modified specimen on his own. In a genetic exploration to determine how the hard-partying rocker has survived so long, gene variants were discovered that “we’ve never seen before,” said geneticist Nathaniel Pearson. Pearson sequenced Ozzy’s genome and discovered variants that “could impact how Osbourne’s body absorbs methamphetamines and other recreational drugs.”
Celebrities are free to use their fame to share with us whatever profound thoughts they may have. But we ordinary folks are similarly obligated to call out their hypocrisy, misinformation and fear-mongering – no matter how pretty they are.
Julie Kelly is the owner of Now You’re Cooking in Orland Park, Illinois. She is a cooking instructor and food writer, but her biggest job is being a mom. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Julie_kelly2.