Two years ago, Rob Saik created a stir during a Red Deer performance of the rock group Chilliwack when he challenged lead singer Bill Henderson’s on-stage assertions about the evils of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
“I simply could not sit there and listen to this entertainer preach how we in agriculture are bad because we use technology to grow food,” said Saik in a subsequent letter to the editor published in the Red Deer Advocate.
A professional agrologist and CEO of the Agri-Trend Group of Companies, Saik now hopes to deliver his pro-GMO message on other stages around the world. He’s the executive producer of Know GMO, a film that will focus on the benefits of genetic engineering and the science behind it.
“Agriculture has been terrible at telling out story,” said Saik. “We have not done a good job of talking about the science, the benefits, the food security, the benefit to the environment that GMO technology brings to the consumer.
“That’s what this movie, hopefully, will help to change.”
With a budget of approximately $1 million, Know GMO will include agricultural success stories from around the world — such as how Hawaii’s papaya industry was saved by the development of genetically modified virus-resistant fruit. Scheduled for a Dec. 2 premiere in Saskatoon, it will be available for screenings at film festivals around the world, said Saik.
Short vignettes from Know GMO are also expected to be used for educational purposes, he added.
“We’re trying to get tools in the hands of teachers to talk positively and correctly about science, such as breeding technology and zero tillage and so on.”
Saik has long been a proponent of farmers being allowed to use technology to increase their efficiency and productivity.
Last year, he wrote a book called The Agriculture Manifesto (available through Amazon.ca). It identities “the anti-science movement that threatens to take technology out of agriculture’s hands” as “the greatest threat to global food security,” said Saik.
He also presented at a TEDx event in Red Deer in November, describing how millions of children die of malnutrition every year while farmers are prevented from boosting production through the use of GMOs. The victims include children who die from or are blinded by a vitamin A deficiency — a problem that could be addressed by substituting the white rice in their diets with a genetically engineered “golden rice” that’s rich in vitamin A. But the distribution of golden rice has been blocked by anti-GMO organizations.
“The fact that that hasn’t been released to people, and millions have died or gone blind as a result of it, that is a crime against humanity and somebody should hold those activist organizations to account,” said Saik
When his views were recently edited out of an anti-GMO documentary that he had participated in, Saik decided to take action. He enlisted the help of his son Nick, who operates a video production company, to make Know GMO and arranged for the Farm & Food Care Foundation of Guelph, Ont. to administer the project.
The foundation has been collecting donations for the film, which now exceed $400,000. The latest was a $150,000 contribution by the Alberta Canola Producers Commission, announced on Tuesday.
“We are excited to be involved in a project we see as crucial,” said Lee Market, chairman of the commission’s board of directors. “This is a topic that requires advocacy on behalf of farmers everywhere.”
Saik said he’s encouraged by this kind of feedback from producer groups.
“We’re attracting the attention of agriculture globally.”
Although production of Know GMO is well underway, more money is needed, said Saik. He’s been contributing himself, but stressed that his motivation is the need to get the facts out to the public.
“The story needs to be told. There’s no financial gain in this for me whatsoever.”
Saik said the challenge that the agricultural community faces is overcoming an “extremely passionate” opposition to GMOs, and a dearth of reliable information on the subject.
“Most of what you get from the Internet or even the media is inaccurate when it comes to the science of what actually is employed in growing food and utilized by agriculture.”
Additional information about Know GMO, including how to donate to the project, can be found online at www.knowGMOtheMOVIE.com.