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Patrick Viktor Monroe
Bobby Holland Hanton
I cannot help thinking that the BBC made a mistake in the dates on which this film for television was first broadcast. Saturday and Sunday 8th/9th June, 2002 must have been somewhat inappropriate, judging from the negligible feedback available.
Co-written by Ronan Bennett and Alan Rusbridger, science correspondent of the Guardian newspaper, `Fields of Golds' sets out on the not at all science-fiction story of things going wrong in genetically manipulated crops experiments. Also the film includes the illegal use of an antibiotic drug in a hospital, with the result of a few people dying. Far fetched? Not at all: here in Spain in the last few months we have had two such similar cases of unlicensed drugs being used and even being sold in pharmacies.
This film, then, raises some very dark questions: how far are the big multinational pharmaceutical groups prepared to go in the pursuit of money? Are they out of responsible government control? Is transgenic food really the answer? Personally I have very strong doubts on this last question, but no doubts on the first two. There is a lot of shouting in favour of and against the breeding of transgenic crops. Anna Friel as Lucia Merritt the photographer for the newspaper, and Philip Davis as Roy Lodge the reporter, put in good performances and help hold the whole lot together. Anna Friel does not just look nice but also acts rather well, and Philip Davis as the rather slovenly, ill-mannered and drunk working- companion offers some really good moments, though I rather fancy the last scenes were a bit overdone. The climax did not seem to follow the basic line adopted throughout the film. The message was clearly stated, evidently.
Patients in a hospital develop VRSA - Vancomycin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus - caused by a pharmaceutical company experimenting with transgenic crops, and which is supposedly highly contagious in the air or even from contact by clothes. In fact, Staphylococcus aureus is a hospital- and community-acquired infection, derived from vancomycin-resistant enterococci recognised in 1988, and is not contagious in the air as purported in this film (John Hopkins Memorial Hospital). The Pennsylvania Department of Health also has published a very recent paper on this matter [Oct.11th 2002 /51(40);902].
Thus I was unable to make the connection with references in the film to Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) or Aphteuse Fevers, as this is confined to animals and is a virus of the order Mononegavirales family Picornaviridae, genus Aphthovirus, which could not be caused as depicted in the film. Also, such references to FMD in Britain might be called an ill-judged moment. Half the farmers in England have either gone out of business or are still struggling to make up economic losses as a direct consequence of the recent outbreak. There were a few other loose ends which had me guessing a bit.
However, technicalities apart, the film was obviously intended to raise serious questions on how science can get out of hand, especially in the field of genetic engineering which is gathering momentum by the day and outstripping paquidermic legalities, and so deserves recommendation at the very least. Better still would be that the BBC make a bit more noise on these issues and repeat the showing of the film at a better moment - for example in the middle of the Christmas holidays. Hopefully a few US TV channels will show it: it might well put somebody off their transgenic turkeys and genetic groceries ....
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