Zoe Lister-Jones: On GMO Labeling, Toxic Childhood Exposure, The DARK Act, Superweeds, Dangers of Glyphosate, and Her New Film Exploring the Disturbing, Complex World of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), Consumed.

Writer | Actor | Producer

Consumed The Movie

Interview: Maranda Pleasant

GMOs are found in nearly 80% of processed food in the United States. Currently up to 92% of U.S. corn is genetically engineered, as are 94% of soybeans and 94% of cotton.

Maranda Pleasant: What are your biggest concerns about GMOs?

Zoe Lister-Jones: I think the dangers of the impact of GMOs on the environment are undebatable. Genetically modified crops are tied to the chemicals sprayed on them. As such, herbicide use in this country has skyrocketed since the introduction of GMOs on the commercial market. According to a 2012 study published in Environmental Sciences Europe, GMO herbicide-tolerant crops have led to a 527 million pound increase in herbicide use in the U.S. between 1996 and 2011. The World Health Organization recently concluded that glyphosate, the main ingredient in the most-used herbicide on GMOs, is “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” One study found glyphosate in 60% to 100% of the rain water in some agricultural areas. What’s even scarier is that more than 3,200 elementary schools are within 1,000 feet of genetically modified corn or soybean fields. Drift is a very real thing in agricultural communities, so the proximity of these toxic substances to children is terrifying.

MP: What do so many of us not know?

ZLJ: Oh boy, where do I begin? I think a big misconception about GMOs is that there is a scientific consensus on their safety. The fact is, some of the most respected scientific bodies in the world, including Codex Alimentarius (jointly run by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations), the American Medical Association, the British Medical Association, and the American Public Health Association, have stated that more research needs to be done on GMOs through premarket safety assessments before we can truthfully determine their safety.

MP: In your opinion, why has GMO labeling been so hard for us to push through?

ZLJ: Well the Grocery Manufacturers Association is behind the bills which have been trying to pre-empt states’ labeling laws in the Senate. And they have a lot of money and power in Washington. So it’s a classic David versus Goliath story, where corporate lobbying outweighs consumers’ rights. The good news, however temporarily, is what is commonly referred to as the Deny Americans the Right to Know (DARK) Act failed to pass the Senate in March. So we are on track to have Vermont’s labeling bill go into effect July 1, as long as an amended bill isn’t introduced before then.

MP: What are some of the biggest physical threats to us with GMOs?

ZLJ: Because GMOs aren’t labeled, it’s very hard to prove causality in terms of health effects. It’s even more difficult because the seeds are patented, so independent researchers have a hard time gaining access to them. At this moment, glyphosate is the biggest threat. And because of its overuse, we are seeing the emergence of superweeds, which have grown resistant to glyphosate. This has led to biotech corporations developing even more toxic herbicides, including 2,4-D, one of the main components of Agent Orange.

MP: Why are you so passionate about this?

ZLJ: Because it’s our food supply! And our environment! There is no way to deny how imperative both of those things are to our future!

MP: In your opinion, why is it so hard to get GMOs out of our food supply?

ZLJ: They’re just so pervasive, it’s irreversible at this point. GMOs are found in nearly 80% of processed food in the United States. Currently, up to 92% of U.S. corn is consumed what are you eating GMO with zoe lister-jonesgenetically engineered, as are 94% of soybeans and 94% of cotton. In short, they are everywhere. But as consumers, we can buy organic and non-GMO verified products, so look out for those labels when shopping!

MP: How do we get involved? How do we support?

ZLJ: There are a lot of great organizations who are fighting for food and environmental safety in this country. The Environmental Working Group, Just Label It, Food Democracy Now, and the Center for Food Safety, to name a few. If you get on any of their mailing lists, you can be kept abreast of very important information regarding the food we are feeding ourselves and our children. And of course, please support Consumed. It is the first narrative thriller (not a documentary) to tackle the world of GMOs. Because there are so many factors when considering the potential impacts of GMOs on our health and environment, we wanted to make a film that could unpack complex subject matter, while taking the audience on an entertaining ride. It is a very powerful tool because it allows viewers to understand the nature of these very complicated issues in a digestible format, and then hopefully engage in a dialogue about them in their respective homes and communities.

Zoe Lister-Jones wrote, produced, and starred in Consumed, a dramatic thriller set in the complex world of GMOs. The film, which became available digitally in March, was called “a real eye-opener” by environmental activist Erin Brockovich. Lister-Jones is currently starring on CBS’s Life in Pieces and appears in Confirmation, a film about
the Clarence Thomas hearings, which premieres on HBO in April.


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