Feb 072005

We have discussed this documentary in 2004.  Now you can see it for yourself!  Many thanks to filmmaker Bertram Verhaag for keeping us informed.  The interview with Bertram (#2 below) is excellent.








Bertram’s assistant, Verena, writes:

First of all very best regards from Bertram he is busy editing a new film.  

On February, 10th 2005 our film “LIFE RUNNING OUT OF CONTROL” is aired on SCN Canada at 20:30 p.m. It is still the North American premiere of the film!  …  

Best regards from snowy Munich,




In the past you have dedicated yourself to producing films and documentaries with sociopolitical topics, e.g. the dangers of nuclear energy or the excesses of racism.  Viewed as such, is the treatment of gene technology the consequential continuation of a political stance or the need to throw light on a problematic issue? 

Of course, the urge to make films originates from a distinct political stance via the equally strong urge to educate with my film work and make a contribution to change and the development of society and our living conditions.  Thus, my films are never matter-of-fact information films; rather, they often deal with the aspect of democracy.  In the case of gene manipulation of plants, animals and humans, the corresponding technology was introduced into society without democratic debate or voting, although there is a real fear that it will have greater repercussions on our lives than the so-called peaceful utilization of nuclear energy.  In desperation, politicians are trying to catch up with the reality already created by industry by framing it into laws. 

In your documentary film you scrutinize the effects of gene technology on plants, animals and humans.  Do you share the view expressed by a scientist in your film that this is a “large human experiment without a control group” ?

I am absolutely of the same opinion that, with gene technology, a gigantic human experiment is being conducted.  For nine years, 200 million Americans have been eating genetically modified foods, not while they voted to do so but because they were never told anything about this.  They are not informed and there is no labeling of genetically modified elements in food, i.e. there are no control groups to be able to relate the successive impairment of the immune system to any causes. 

Do you think it is conceivable that textiles manufactured with genetically modified cotton or foodstuffs produced with genetically manipulated canola oil could come onto the market in Germany without us noticing it? 

As to cotton, probably yes, as to canola oil, probably no, since we have had a labeling regulation on all foods containing genetically modified ingredients in Europe since April 2004.  However, labeling is only required if they are composed of more than 0.9 percent of genetically modified elements.  Moreover, tragically, meat from animals that were fed genetically manipulated grain – chickens, pigs, cows, etc. – has not been subjected to labelling until now.  It remains to be hoped that the consumer will vehemently demand this labeling.  I personally take special care to avoid buying food from genetically modified production, whereby the labeling stipulation has just been instituted.  It is to be hoped that the EU will support endeavors seeking to label foodstuffs as “GMO-free” or declare regions and whole districts as GMO-free zones.  

In your film you let farmers, environmentalists and scientists from the whole world speak who are all somewhat critical with respect to the impact of gene technology.  Apart from a Canadian farmer who cultivated genetically modified canola, why did you choose not to get into a discussion with advocates of the opposing side?

Industry has enough time, money and media opportunities to promote the “benefits” of gene technology with soothing, superficial and, to a great extent, false assertions.  Little has been mentioned about who is doing what, how and why in this field.  For this reason it is important to me to seek answers to these four questions. 

Can the opponents of gene technology be seen in the role of David against Goliath when estimating their influence as opposed to that of the agricultural industry? 

Of course, in simplistic terms, it is a struggle of David against Goliath when a citizen sees himself as a powerless individual.  But consumers on the whole are indeed a Goliath that can force industry via the market to a change of conduct.  What is outrageous, however, is the fact that, in the meantime, part of our world has been contaminated by gene technology, and industry – together with the US government – is attempting to carry on with this process per force and create facts and circumstances that can virtually no longer be reversed, e.g. through gratuitous aid to relieve famine in Africa in the form of genetically modified maize that might not be eaten but rather sown, thus contaminating traditional African seeds.  Such environmental pollution is much more permanent and dangerous than chemical pollution, for it reproduces by itself. 

You document experiments with genetically modified plants and animals that are presently occurring all over the world.  Do we still have enough time for an intensive public debate and shaping of public opinion to create more consumer awareness? 

In Europe, consumer awareness does appear to function quite well in a more subconscious or intuitive way.  Though the knowledge and understanding of gene technology is limited in individual persons, consumers as a whole reject genetically modified nutriments.  This led to the EU declaration of a five-year moratorium in 1998, during which period genetically modified grain or other foodstuffs were not allowed to be imported.  This has now – in April of 2004 – been lifted with the introduction of the labeling requirement. Through labeling the consumer has the possibility to decide for or against gene technology in the supermarket.  In this way, the democratic vote on gene technology that was at first circumvented will now subsequently take place at the store counter.  The film intends to lend help to the consumer in making conscious decisions.  Pursuant to this, the market would then react and the food industry would, as the case may be, stop using genetically manipulated ingredients.  The agricultural and seeds industry would remain sitting on their genetically modified grain.  This is just what farmers in the USA and Canada are now afraid of. 

The catchwords “terminator technology”,” patent rights on plants”, “sequencing of the human genome” augur badly.  Is the documentary film you made a pessimistic one? 

Although catchwords, such as terminator technology, patent rights on plants, genome sequencing or biological contamination, sound rather pessimistic, “Life Running Out of Control” is not a pessimistic film.  We encounter many people all over the world who are defying industry, revealing its dangers but also offering alternatives.  For example, Vandana Shiva in India is successfully fighting against the agricultural multi Monsanto and, simultaneously, promoting on a wide scale a return to traditional, sustainable, organic farming without chemistry.  And she proves that there is no less yield with this form of food production and that it is, above all, economically saner.  Responsible restaurant owners in the USA who jointly boycott buying genetically modified fish are another example. 

You belong to those few filmmakers who intentionally integrate their personal opinion in their films.  How do you justify this approach?  Isn’t it better for the viewers to form their own opinions, independent of the filmmaker’s viewpoint? 

For 25 years we have been making films dealing with political, ecological and social topics.  From the very beginning our work was marked by the conviction that there is no such thing as a so-called objective film.  Even with decisions purely regarding form, such as film editing, music, camera details or focal distance, I am able to influence the viewers subconsciously.  I consider it better and more honest to express my position explicitly and prove it with arguments or images.  In this way, the viewer can better and more clearly come to terms with the subject-matter than with those much espoused balanced presentations that often tend to leave the viewer helpless and alone.  I would even venture to say that this is the very goal aimed for, under the simultaneous pretense of informing “objectively”. 

What would you like to achieve with your documentary film about the risks and dangers of gene technology? 

First of all, we would like to provide understandable, in-depth and coherent information about the risks and dangers of gene technology with our film to help citizens, viewers and consumers in their daily decisions as to whether they are for or against gene food.  Conveying scientific facts, however, is not the main point. It is about a holistic approach that goes beyond short-term “obtuse” thinking and restricted categorizations propagated by industry.  In the era of quantum physics and with our knowledge of the networking character of our world – everything is interconnected – no one should be allowed to simply replace a gene from a living organism with another gene of another species without reflecting that, by so doing, he may be fundamentally altering the entire living creature in its structure and in the interaction of its millions or billions of cells.  On top of this, the impact on the environment and on our health has to be taken into consideration when we eat genetically manipulated food.  The concept of interconnectedness in our thinking was the main theme of our film. 

(Interviewers:  Oliver Kopitzke and Gabi Schlattmann, SWR)

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