The Future of Food

01 Jun 2006

Among the many entertaining and thought-provoking films shown at the recent “Cinema Corto in Bra” film festival, there is one that I feel deserves particular attention. It should receive wide publicity.

The film-shown in Bra last Thursday, before its general Italian release-is a documentary with the succinct title The Future of Food. It was made by the American director Deborah Koons Garcia in 2004, but has only just made its way across to Europe (it was presented in Paris last week) and I hope that it will now enjoy the widest possible distribution.

I have often written about the complex question of genetically modified organisms in this column. It is never easy to explain why it is so necessary to oppose these technologies, or at the very least to exercise strong precautionary sentiments.

The Future of Food is extremely instructive and pulls no punches when it comes to the question of GMOs. Very simply and directly it relates the epic journey of American agriculture, from the advancing use of chemicals in the early post-war years, to the patenting of nature and the brazen biogenetic creations of some agribusiness multinationals. In the course of one and a half hours the Californian director tells us through the voices of experts and farmers how GMOs are produced, how they work and-very importantly-why they are produced i.e. what sort of system they are being made for. It is a description of the agricultural scene in the US, owned by a growing concentration of a few large industrial groups, with a paltry 2% of small farmers left on the land, who are losing their seeds, their liberty and their dignity.

They are the ones who give the strongest testimony: there is Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer fighting a long legal battle against Monsanto, who I have already written about in this column (but it is a very different matter to see his wife in tears), and Rodney Nelson, from North Dakota, who describes a case brought against him, again by Monsanto, for presumed illegal use of their seeds. Mr. Nelson protests that the work done by his family over generations in selecting their own seeds, has been ruined for ever in just a few years: ‘It was heart-rending to see our reputation destroyed because of something we did not do’.

It will be interesting for Italian farmers to see what can happen in a production system that hides these personal tragedies behind those incredible cultivated expanses, the endless fields of corn, rape and soya stretching to the horizon. The impossibility of producing the way you want, being at the mercy of a highly subsidized market, not being able to look after nature the way your ancestors used to, as nature is now widely patented and belongs to someone else.

But the film says a lot more, because it talks about what could be the future of our food in Italy if traditional agriculture, biodiversity, seeds, and traditional knowledge were to be replaced by a system like that predominant in the US, consisting of agribusiness, GMOs, industrialized agriculture (an obvious oxymoron), ultra-centralized systems of distribution and production. Fortunately, after more than an hour of increasing concern and a growing sense of impotence as you follow the film, Deborah Koons Garcia provides us with important signs of hope and shows us the alternatives which can still offer a future for American food and also ours. Short chains, community-supported agriculture, a return to organic methods, local supply, seasonal produce, small markets in towns or farmer’s markets in cities.

I feel the film should be shown in schools, the DVD should be on the shelf in the sitting room of every Italian farm: I hope Slow Food will be successful in its attempt to organize distribution in Italy. It would be unusual for our association to be involved in distributing a film, but given the content, I think it fits our mission perfectly and I can’t wait. In the meantime you can find more information and a trailer on the website www.thefutureoffood.com.

First printed in La Stampa on May 2, 2006

Carlo Petrini is the president of Slow Food

Ronnie Richards

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