The ag industry’s answer to anti-GMO sentiment is nearly halfway to its funding goal, thanks to a sizable donation from the Alberta Canola Producers Commission.
The commission is putting $150,000 toward Know GMO, a feature-length documentary being produced by Agri-Trend CEO Rob Saik.
“There’s been a demand among producers to do something as anti-GMO sentiment has built over the past few years,” said Lee Markert, a producer from Vulcan and commission chair.
“The fact of the matter is GM technology plays a significant role in our ability to compete as farmers at any production size. With that being threatened, it’s created a stir amongst producers who think that something needs to be done to preserve our ability to use that technology going forward.”
The film will focus on the science behind GM technology and is the “first real chance” the commission has had to “tell the other side of the story,” said Markert.
“(Know GMO) addresses an issue that we’ve been talking about more frequently as time as gone on,” he said.
The donation is from checkoff dollars that were previously allocated for increasing public awareness about canola, he said.
“We had already been talking about doing something like this in some capacity, and the stars just lined up when Know GMO came up,” said Markert.
Work on the movie began last summer and the goal is to “speak out on behalf of agriculture,” said Saik.
“If you go on to Netflix or the Internet, the anti-GMO side has completely hijacked the whole conversation,” he said. “It’s very difficult to find the science side, and even if you try to share that with people, they assume you’re a shill for the industry.
“A project like this is a way of countering the misconceptions that are in the marketplace.”
So far, the production team — which includes Saik’s son Nick — has completed pre-production on the movie and filmed the “first leg” in Hawaii.
“We went to Hawaii and did the filming of the GMO story there with respect to GMO papaya, which was one of the first crops that was saved by GMO technology,” said Saik, adding the crew will be filming across North America during spring seeding.
After that, the plan is to travel to countries such as Argentina, India, Indonesia, Uganda, and Kenya to make the documentary “as global as possible,” said Nick Saik, the film’s director and cinematographer.
“That’s one of the idiosyncrasies of food production nowadays,” he said. “As much as we’d like it to be local, it’s a global system. And to be able to talk about food in a realistic context, you’ve got to get around the world.
“It’s not a cheap proposition to make a movie.”
The canola commission’s donation puts the project nearly halfway to its funding goal, said Rob Saik.
“We’ve raised approximately $400,000 of the $1 million budget so far,” said Saik. “We have a long ways to go, but we’re making progress.”
Other donors include Grain Farmers of Ontario, mid-size retail companies, and individual farmers, he said.
“It’s people who care about getting the truth out regarding GMOs and getting the science perspective out. We’ve had very good support.”
Donations are managed by the Farm and Food Care Foundation, which is a “different model from the way films are traditionally funded,” said Nick Saik, who has been producing films for more than a decade.
“Essentially what we’re looking at here is a non-profit film,” he said. “The No. 1 purpose of this film is to give people more information. We’re trying to make this film available to everybody who wants to see it as easy as possible. You should never have to pay for this film if you don’t have the ability to.”
One of the ways to do that is through film festivals.
“It’s through film festivals that the documentary will really start to have an impact on the urban marketplace, which is really what we want to do,” said Rob Saik, adding that short “video snippets” will also be available for schools and the general public.
The goal is to give the film its official launch in December, but that will largely depend on funding, said Nick Saik.
That’s part of the reason the Alberta canola commission stepped up with its donation, said Markert.
“We’re hoping that, by making this contribution, it will act as a catalyst for some other organizations to stand up and realize they should be involved in something like this,” he said.
“Going forward, biotechnology is going to be of increasing importance regardless of which commodity you’re producing. We’re just a piece of the puzzle, and we’re hoping to be a leader in this capacity.”
More information on the movie can be found at knowgmothemovie.com.