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Grad Students Create Documentary on Living a Monsanto-Free Lifestyle

default article imageTwo University students working toward their Masters degrees in social work have teamed up together to document their experience living a Monsantofree lifestyle for six weeks.  Mary Szacik and Jessica Kostenblatt hope to bring awareness to the public about the large corporations that have a strong influence over the global food supply and food policy.  In particular, they are focusing on Monsanto Inc., a multinational agricultural biotechnology company who is the leading producer of genetically engineered seeds in the world.

In December, Szacik and Kostenblatt started filming A Patented Life: Sowing the Seeds of Human Rights.  The first day of their six week endeavor to live completely free from any food products or byproducts which incorporate genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) was Jan. 15.  Any personal hygiene products that have glycerin, or other GMO’s, were discarded, and any new clothing purchased during the six weeks will be free from GMO’s.  Since Monsanto provides the technology in 90 percent of the engineered seeds in the U.S., the nonconsummation and boycott of their products is called Monsantofree.

But Monsanto’s influence on everyday produce is so great that trying to avoid any products containing their genetically engineered seeds seems nearly impossible.  “I never enjoy grocery shopping,” said Szacik, “but when I spent hours reading labels to buy certified organic, my frustration level rose higher than ever.”  Szacik says that if food products are not labeled 100 percent certified organic, then there is a good chance that genetically engineered ingredients are in it.  “Corn, for example, is one of five major commodity crops that are 90 percent genetically engineered, so it is difficult to avoid the biotech influence in such a widely used grain.”  Soy, canola, cotton and sugar (made from beets) are the others.

Another major problem related to GMO’s is that products in the U.S. are not labeled specifying their presence.  According to justlabelit.org, more than 80 percent of processed foods at U.S. grocery stores are likely to contain genetically engineered ingredients and the consumer is not even aware of those constituents.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require labels for foods with genetically engineered ingredients.  “One of our goals in making the documentary is to enlighten the public on GMO’s presence in our food and to rally their support in convincing the FDA to label the products containing these genetically engineered seeds.  The U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t require this labeling,” said Szacik.  One of the ways to voice an opinion on the matter is to join a petition on justlabelit.org to urge the FDA to require labeling on GMO products. 

To date, there have been no independent research experiments on the possible health effects from consuming GMO’s. According to globalResearch.ca, the GMO agribusiness companies like Monsanto, BASF, Pioneer, Syngenta, and others, prohibit independent research.  As a precondition to buying their seeds, farmers must sign an End User Agreement with Monsanto and other agricultural biotechnology companies that explicitly forbids that the seeds be used for any independent research.  The only research published was preapproved by Monsanto and the other GMO companies and the findings are obviously biased.  They credit their technology as “the solution to world hunger.”

But in the shadows of this self-proclaimed savior lay rising speculation of potentially harmful side effects from ingesting the produce.  “Concerns of liver, kidney, stomach and reproductive damage are in direct relation to the herbicides and pesticides used on the produce,” said Szacik.  To add, genetically engineering a seed means inserting or deleting certain genes in the organism’s DNA structure which changes the biodiversity of the crop.

Ron Garner, author of Conscious Health: A Complete Guide to Wellness Through Natural Means, states that, “Since the body becomes what we feed it, genetically modified foods and produce will have a negative influence on one’s cellular structure.” 

Kostenblatt says that working on the documentary has given her the opportunity to educate people on the omnipresence of GMO’s.  “Coworkers see that I am eating different foods than usual and ask what brought about the change.  That leads to an informative and interesting conversation for the both of us.  It is during these conversations that I notice how little people know about GMO’s and how much interest they have in wanting to learn about them,” said Kostenblatt. 

Because of this, Kostenblatt and Szacik decided to post their footage weekly on their blog page (apatentedlife.wordpress.com) and Facebook page (A Patented Life), rather than release a final end product, so that those interested in their experience could follow along as it happens.  “We decided that it would be more beneficial to the learning process to let viewers experience our daily routine along with us to see the different challenges that accompany a Monsanto free lifestyle,” said Kostenblatt.  Some of the footage one can expect to see in the documented experience are cooking with GMO-free foods, interviews with farmers, chefs and nutritionists, and the daily experiences of Szacik, who just recently flew to Bangladesh for an internship on an organic farm.

“In general,” said Kostenblatt, “the purpose of this project is to spark discussion about the human rights implications of Monsanto’s influence on our food, and to bring awareness to our viewers of the dominant grip that it has on our everyday lives.”