With a louder voice, science changes minds

Could a controversial, yet popular, documentary help bridge the divide on GMOs? Some Illinois farmers and others think so.

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David Sutherland, left, offers up his take on the “Food Evolution” documentary following the screening Tuesday night at the ArcLight Cinemas in Chicago. A former GMO opponent, Sutherland co-founded the pro-science group March Against Myths. (Photos by Mike Orso)

By Mike Orso

As part of his animal rights and vegetarian activism, Chicago artist David Sutherland acknowledged it seemed natural to pivot toward demonizing biotechnology too.

“I would go out and organize local groups here, and we would table at fests,” said Sutherland. “All I knew was fish genes in strawberries – it’s unnatural, it’s bad.”

Sutherland has since looked deeper into the science behind biotechnology and changed his mind.

Related: The leader of the Chicago-based Institute of Food Technologists told Illinois farmers earlier this year, “The big challenge we face is tending to form tribes.” Click here.

The topic drew Sutherland, along with 200-plus other moviegoers, to a theater on the north side of Chicago this week to watch “Food Evolution,” which takes a deep dive into the debate over biotechnology. He gave it a thumbs-up, as has some major media outlets across the country, some scientists and some Illinois farmers.

“It is so awesome to have the scientific voices now joining the chorus,” said Katie Pratt, a Dixon farmer whose husband, Andy, parked the combine and drove into the city from Lee County to watch the documentary. “I think that was what was missing initially.”

Pratt, also an Ag in the Classroom coordinator and part of a group of farmers that has served as a ‘face of farming’ for the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), participated in a post-movie panel discussion, along with a college professor and a scientist. 

Moderator Joy Dellaringa, a leader in the Chicago section of the Institute of Food Technologists (CIFT), called out Sutherland in the audience during the discussion for co-founding a group known as “March Against Myths.” It has launched counter- protests, social media activism and other activities advocating for sound science.

“You weren’t so sure who was a good guy, bad guy,” said Sutherland about the documentary. “I feel like they did a fair job of weaving in the science of it, too.”

Related: The director of “Food Evolution” said, “I don’t want it to be called this side or that side.” To listen to an interview with Academy Award nominee Scott Hamilton Kennedy, click here.

Illinois Farm Families (IFF), CIFT and the Illinois Science Council co-sponsored the Chicago event. Illinois Farm Bureau, which is part of IFF, plans to work with USFRA, county Farm Bureaus and collegiate Farm Bureau chapters on additional screenings throughout the state.

Video: Catch a part of the panel discussion on “Food Evolution” and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) with Katie Pratt, Dixon farmer. Joining Pratt include, from left, Joy Dellaringa, Chicago Section, Institute of Food Technologists; Stephen Moose, Ph.D., genetics and crop science professor, University of Illinois; and Sunny Gilbert, Ph.D., geneticist with Cofactor Genomics.

Content for this story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.

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