By Milène Ortenberg
If you aren’t familiar with Monsanto, GMOs and the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, you’ve probably been living under a rock for the last few years. This environmentally nauseous trifecta has been highly publicized and has brought about a great deal of public debate concerning the “progress” of bioengineering and modern agriculture. The amount of special televised programs and documentaries surrounding this highly controversial subject has nearly saturated the market, yet activist-driven green docs still continue to pour out onto the silver screen.
Films such as King Corn, The World According to Monsanto and The Future of Food all offer insight into the inner workings of agricultural engineering and how governments willingly turn a blind eye to the alleged poison being injected into their people’s food supply.
In this aspect, Tous Cobayes? is no different than these films, effectively highlighting the government’s shortcomings in regards to these subjects. But what is truly interesting about this film it that it showcases these problems in France, a country that hasn’t spoken as loudly about these issues compared to the United States.
Gilles-Éric Seralini, a French scientist, researcher and head of the Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN), has made one of the first long term studies regarding Monsanto’s genetically modified corn maize and Roundup, the most popular herbicide in monoculture GMO farms in the United States. The study went beyond the three month studies commissioned by the company itself and it’s “allies”, and proved to reveal shocking repercussions, on the consumption of these genetically and chemically altered products. Spanning an impressive two years in an extremely controlled environment, this study is the principle narrative of Tous Cobayes?, as the film travels from France, to the World Health Organization in Geneva, to Kenya, to Fukushima in Japan.
In regards to nuclear energy, France is in a position where public debate on this issue is urgent, given that the country is literally bursting at the seams with reactors on every major waterway. Here in Québec, we often forget that we are blessed with the geographical advantage of lakes and rivers that is able to provide us with clean, renewable energy with only a one-time environmental impact. France does not have such a luxury, so the alternative is either coal burning or nuclear. The latter is considered “environmentally clean”, as long as toxic waste is properly quarantined and no accidents happen. Hardly the ideal situation.
If the events that happened in Fukushima were reproduced in France, not only would the entire country become radioactive for generations to come, but France’s entire agricultural identity would be irreversibly compromised. Champagne Valley, Bordeaux wines, and Provencal Lavender… all obsolete for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Take away wine from the French, and you have some very, very angry citizens. France has arrested people ruining corn crops as a protest against GMOs and Nuclear Technology. This is the first time since the medieval ages that peasants have been arrested for scything the land.
The facts enumerated in the documentary are numerous and profoundly astounding, but not overwhelming. The perspective is the poignant point of interest here, as the film brings about voices that have previously never been heard before in such a way. The film also offers insightful historical context, but could have simplified it more for the uninformed viewer. A negative aspect of the film on a more technical level was the poor subtitling and the fast and confusing editing at certain points in the film. Superposing English and French subtitles, in the same color and font, one on top of each other was dizzying, especially when identifying long acronyms of health organizations. The combination of personal testimonies and various industry points of view only offer a one sided-perspective to the issue, but at the same time that biased approach is what is needed to raise awareness and make a point towards the issue at hand.
The point of the film is quite clear: that the bio engineering that reigns supreme in the majority of the developed world’s food supply has not been adequately tested. The undisclosed nature of the long-term effects of such technologies tells us that the people in charge are not ready to lift their eyes from the short-term goals of productivity and profitability. As the film’s title suggests, we are all guinea pigs for this new technology that is hardly tested till perfect. What will happen to us in the future is still difficult to predict, but hopefully we won’t turn out like the rats in Séralini’s experiment.
For a sneak peak go to: