Most folks involved in food production and food processing would probably not have heard of a movie called “Food, Inc.” It’s one of those fearmongering films filled with conjecture and innuendo about agriculture and food processing that our public network is all too enthusiastic to broadcast.
The problem for agriculture is that this film raises alarms and twisted perceptions in the eyes of consumers. Being, because people have a tendency to believe the worst, you can expect viewers to actually believe what they see – our image will take a big hit that is never easy to change.
The movie came to light when I noticed a gaggle of movie critics all line up like politically correct sheep to praise a pseudo-documentary on food production. My experience tells me that when that happens you just know there must be bull fudge heaped somewhere. Reviews containing awestruck statements like “stomach-churning” and “life-altering,” were coming from well-fed critics who wouldn’t know a cow from a doorknob. Almost none of the reviewers noticed that there might be some bias or exaggeration by the film producers. I always find it it curious that self-righteous films made by the liberally inclined are never questioned as to the facts. Those folks wouldn’t stretch the truth to sell a film or a book, would they?
The underlying theme of the film involves a mother who lost her child to a foodborne disease. Such a loss is tragic indeed, but implying that this death is the fault of an industrial food production conspiracy is a bit rich. Food poisoning has been a plague since the first human ate a mouldy banana. Millions of lives have been lost over time and will continue to be lost regardless of how food is produced. That reality is not mentioned anywhere in the film.
The film stars are Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan. They are deemed to be experts because they wrote books slamming modern agriculture and food production. Again it is assumed that whatever they say must be true. Those two will be laughing all the way to the bank from the free publicity they get from the movie for their books.
But their biased perspectives do set the tone of the film, which then proceeds to find evil conspiracies and rapacious corporations in every bushel of corn. That alone will guarantee that this film will be on CBC TV soon. It should be said that this is an American film and it shows production and marketing practices that either do not exist or differ from what is carried out in Canada. This is particularly true in the section on poultry production, which in Canada is well regulated by marketing boards. Also the film depicts the politics of corn production and subsidization which has very little resemblance in Canada and almost none in Alberta.
As expected capitalism is treated as the root of all evil which will see the world soon controlled by a couple of global agribusinesses. Capitalism is OK though, for small farm operators producing organic food. The curious idea being that safe, regular food sold in quantity at low prices is a corporate rip-off, but organic food sold at high prices by clever entrepreneurs is being socially responsible. The film is perplexed about all this when they note that most organic food now available in supermarkets is controlled by the same giant food companies that produce regular food. The answer they offer is to go to farmers’ markets and growers directly to buy your food. That may be nostalgic and whimsical considering millions of consumers would truly overwhelm those sources of food.
To further rivet the attention of the naive viewer, gross scenes of animal abuse and production line inhumanity are trotted as being a matter of course. Many of the images are dated, and cleverly edited for shock effect – it always works on the gullible. They are presented in a manner that this is still common practice – some of the scenes are over 30 years old – but the viewer doesn’t know that.
The reality is slaughtering animals for food is never a pretty business, but the implication in the film that chickens being processed in a commercial facility is much worse than those being bled to death by an organic farmer in his farmyard is ludicrous. I can’t speak for chickens, as these psychic filmmakers want to do, but I suspect chickens meeting their fate aren’t too concerned how they are killed as long as it’s fast.
After every allegation made about some terrible corporate behaviour, a statement is flashed across the screen that the corporation refused to respond to inquiries. That’s a bit of self-serving mischief. Food corporations have been burned too many times by so-called investigative journalists who ask loaded questions which are then edited out of context.
As expected Monsanto is vilified; to green lobby group activists it is the Darth Vader of food production, but it has become a tiresome rant. Fearmongering over genetically modified (GM) food is fading away even in the minds of consumers. GM food has been around for 12 years, millions of tonnes have been consumed by millions of people and not a single person has gotten sick or died from the GM component. GM seeds from Monsanto have significantly increased crop yields. All of that annoys environmental activists so they continue to strike at the Monsanto devil.
One needs to realize that these types of films exist only in the western world. That’s were most well-fed people live. People in the Third World who know real hunger would marvel at the images in this film. All they would see are scenes of untold quantities of cheap, wholesome and available food. They would care little about how or who grows and produces such a marvelous supply. They do get some of that food though – when it is sent to them to keep them from starving.
Films like this give agriculture a black eye and if the only folks who saw these malicious exercises were activists and the converted it wouldn’t matter much. But when this film gets broadcast by the CBC, as I expect it will, naive consumers will only believe the worst about agriculture. The bad part is that those consumers are also voters and they expect their politicians to act on what they think they believe.