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U of M dean says 'Troubled Waters' film 'vilifies agriculture'

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The Dean of the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences says a film produced by the Bell Museum about pollution in the Mississippi River "vilifies agriculture."

The film, "Troubled Waters," is about the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, and pollution from Minnesota that's contributing to the problem. Its premiere was abruptly postponed by university officials.

The Bell Museum is part of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

Dean Al Levine says he did not ask for the premiere to be postponed.  Karen Himle, the University's Vice President for University Relations, told MPR News she discussed the matter with Dean Levine and the two of them agreed it should be postponed until it could be reviewed by a scientific panel.

Levine said the film opens with a lot of drama, and spends too much time discussing agricultural pollution before considering any other sources of water pollution.

"Agriculture is a major contributor to these issues, we know that," he said, noting the film takes a half-hour to talk about other sources of runoff, such as cities or lawn chemicals.

Levine says the film isn't inaccurate, but it's unbalanced. He said it should have included scientists who are trying to figure out how to feed 9 billion people by 2050.

Filmmaker Larkin McPhee says the film was balanced, and shows many things farmers and university researchers are doing to improve water quality.

"I think that the film is a very honest and fair appraisal of a very complicated subject, and I want to stress that it's already undergone thorough review by many people at the University and elsewhere," McPhee said.

University officials denied rumors that they acted under pressure from agricultural interests when they postponed the premiere, saying they will appoint a scientific committee to review the film.  

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story did not accurately report the reason for the postponement of the film. It has since been updated with clarification from Dean Al Levine.