FAQ

Download our study guide for the film put together in cooperation with our friends at Food & Water Watch.

What is a GMO?
A genetically modified organism (GMO) is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques. Genetic modification involves the mutation, insertion, or deletion of genes. Genetically engineered crops are crops that are altered with inserted genetic material to exhibit a desired trait.
How common are GMOs?
The United States is the world leader in genetically engineered crop production, with 165 million acres, or nearly half of global production. Currently in the United States, approximately 85% of all processed foods contain GMOs.
Are GMOs bad for us?
The effects of eating genetically engineered (GE) foods are still largely unknown. The studies that led to the market release of certain genetically modified seeds were conducted by the same companies that manufacture the seeds themselves, and the raw data for these tests have not been released for the public to see. There have been independent, peer-reviewed studies that suggest that there could be harmful effects to human health caused by the use of GMOs and the chemical pesticides and herbicides that go along with them, but again, there has not been enough research done and the jury is still out. Also, without labeling GE foods, we cannot associate any health problems with people who ate them — because we do not know who ate them. Since the FDA has no way to track adverse health effects in people consuming GE foods, and because there is no requirement that food containing GE ingredients be labeled, there is no effective way to gather data on health problems that may be happening.
What are the environmental effects of GMOs?
Genetically engineered (GE) crops usually use more pesticides and herbicides than non-GE crops, and they can easily contaminate organic and non-GE conventional crops with unwanted genetic material. Roundup Ready crops (which are engineered to tolerate application of the weed killer Roundup) are known to increase Roundup (glyphosate) use. Glyphosate has been linked to kidney and reproductive difficulties, allergic reactions and blocking mineral nutrients essential to human health. Now, superweeds and pests like the rootworm that have become resistant to GE-affiliated herbicides like Roundup and pesticides and require many more toxic chemicals to be applied to crops. There are also significant ethical and economic concerns involved with the patenting of living organisms and the rapid spread of GE crops has increased the corporate consolidation of the seed supply.
What is the difference between genetically engineered plants and plants altered through natural hybridization processes?
Plants altered through natural hybridization processes crossbreed plants within the same species. This process can happen naturally through cross pollination, but gardeners, farmers, and horticulturists have created the bulk of modern hybrids, often over the course of many years. The genes of genetically engineered (GE) plants have been altered by the insertion of genes taken from unrelated plant species, animal or bacterium that would not otherwise not occure naturally.
How can I avoid GMOs?
Until there are mandatory GMO labeling laws in place, the only way you can avoid eating GMOs is to eat food labeled as organic and/or food that is labeled as “Non-GMO”. Organic food prohibits the use of genetically modified ingredients in its production, and “non GMO” means that that product, although it may not be organic, does not include genetically modified ingredients.
Will mandatory labeling make foods more expensive?
Changing the label to reflect the presence of a genetically engineered (GE) ingredient wouldn’t be any different from changing an ingredient or adding a nutritional benefit.

Labeling would require segregating seeds according to GE content, which is already done with many identity-preserved crops today. Depending on the markets that seeds or grains are sold to, grain handlers and seed companies do testing to ensure the purity of the seeds that they sell or distribute. There are already segregation methods in place today for export to countries with GE labeling requirements, like European Union countries, Japan and China. Once labeling is required in the United States, these practices would have to be expanded, but it is not infeasible or cost prohibitive.
Is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway secure?
There are many theories out there about the "Doom's Day Vault" and it's hard to know what to believe. From long conversations with Cary Fowler we understood that there are no GMOs in the vault and that it works just like a bank…only the depositors of the seeds can access them. Further, because of many people claiming that Monsanto and the Gates Foundation had their dirty hands all over the vault, we asked if this was somehow true. We were told that the land, the vault, and the upkeep are all directly funded by Norway.

Instead of just taking Cary Fowler's word for it (we believe he is very trustworthy but were just doing our homework), we went directly to a rep from the Norwegian government. Here is the response we got from the person in charge of the Svalbard Seed Vault in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and hopefully this will put at least some of the conspiracy theories to rest.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault Vault is owned by the Norwegian Government and is located in Svalbard, Spitsbergen in Norway. It was established by the Norwegian authorities and the constructions were also fully financed by these through the joint budgets of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2008.

The Norwegian Ministry of Agriculture and Food has the authority of the Seed Vault and is responsible for its administration, including budgets. For the management of the Seed vault, the Ministry has entered into a 10 years agreement with the Global Crop Diversity Trust and the Nordic genetic resource Center. Global Crop Diversity Trust agrees in the agreement to cover about 130 000 USD of the annual running costs of the seed vault. This sum amounts to less than one fourth of the annual costs.

Global Crop Diversity Trust is funded by a set of donors, amongst them the Norwegian Government. The relationship between the Gates Foundation and the GCDT and the Seed Vault is limited to a project funded by the Gates Foundation to finance the package and shipment costs for the some of the seeds, mainly from the International Agriculture Research Centres, that have been deposited in the seed vault. These seed collection has a specific international status due to agreement amongst the Contracting Parties to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) of FAO. This project has been finalized.

Norway invites seed collections all over the World to use the Svalbard Global Seed Vault as their long term security storage (back-up) for their seed collections. The use is free of charge. However, the Seed vault will not finance regenerations, packaging, shipment or any costs related to the depositing. GCDT is one of the organizations which offers assistant for this purpose. The Norwegian Government guarantees not to transfer the deposited seeds further, except back on request to the original depositor and also that it will not claim any ownership of the deposited seeds.

We hope that this information may give you the information that you sought and that it will clear up any misunderstanding related to the ownership and funding of the Seed Vault.

Please contact us again if you have any further questions!

Grethe Helene Evjen
Ministry of Agriculture and Food,
Postbox 8007 dep
0030 Oslo
Norway
+47 22 24 93 11 / +47 93 28 79 53
ghe@lmd.dep.no

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In contrast to these facts, the organization that Cary Fowler used to be the director of, The Global Crop Diversity Trust, did receive money from companies like Syngenta and from the Gates Foundation. Cary was always up front about it and said that the money came with no strings attached and allowed him to do the important work of seed saving the world over. Money like this always looks fishy, but it doesn't guarantee foul play. As an example, look at all the places funded by the Gates Foundation. Just because Gates is pushing GMOs in South Africa and elsewhere doesn't mean that every nonprofit or group that gets a grant from his foundation is somehow evil or has been compromised.

There is now new director of GCDT (a Norwegian by the way): http://www.croptrust.org/content/press-release-18-october-2012

And here's a list of donors to the GCDT: http://www.croptrust.org/content/donors
Organizations:

Books and Reports:
  • The Unsettling of America, Wendell Berry
  • Uncertain Peril, Claire Hope Cummings
  • Shattering, Cary Fowler
  • The One-Straw Revolution, Masanobu Fukuoka
  • Foodopoly, Wenonah Hauter
  • Enough, Bill McKibben
  • Where Our Food Comes From, Gary Paul Nabhan
  • The Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan
  • "Agriculture at a Crossroads," International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development
  • Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial