In Food Inc. (see www.foodincmovie.com), filmmaker Robert Kenner peels back the curtain that hides America's food industry, including the meat industry.
Food production is no longer dominated by farmers but by a handful of soulless multinational corporations where executives in board rooms a thousand miles from the farms make decisions that affect not only farm workers but the food produced by those workers. Despite the image portrayed by product packaging and marketing campaigns, CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) have replaced small family farms as the primary means of meat production in the United States.
Food, Inc. features Barbara Kowalcyk, a food safety advocate whose son Kevin died in 2001, 12 days after eating meat contaminated with E. coli bacteria. Kowalcyk said, "We put faith in our government to protect us, and we're not being protected at a most basic level." Kowalcyk is now fighting to give the USDA the power to shut down plants that repeatedly produce contaminated meats.
Allen Trenkle, a ruminant nutrition expert at Iowa State University, explains that cattle were designed to eat grass, not corn, which creates an abnormally acid environment in the rumen and promotes the growth of E. coli. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's dilemma, said, "The industrial food system is always looking for greater efficiency, but each new step in efficiency leads to problems. If you take feedlot cattle off of their corn diet, give them grass for five days, they will shed 80% of the E. coli in their gut. But of course that's not what the industry does. The industry's approach is when it has a systematic problem like that is not to go back and see what's wrong with the system. It's to come up with some high tech fixes to allow the system to survive." Rather than reducing the presence of E. coli, the high tech fix bathes the meat in ammonia to kill the bacteria.
Poultry and pork
Poultry and pork production have their own set of problems. Chickens are grown in dark, unclean environments with tens of thousands of birds crowded into one hen house, and they're given antibiotics. A woman who formerly raised chickens for Tyson and Purdue said that she became "allergic to all antibiotics" as a result of her work.
Food, Inc. shows the Smithfield hog processing plant at Tar Heel, NC, the largest slaughterhouse in the world. 32,000 hogs are slaughtered there per day. The documentary exposes the working conditions at the plant, where many of the employees allegedly are illegal aliens who are afraid to complain about the conditions for fear of being deported.
Food, Inc. exposes the federal farm subsidy program, which enables the food industry to purchase corn below cost of production. That corn finds it way into a multitude of foods via maltodextrin, high fructose corn syrup, and other corn-derived products. As sugar consumption has increased, incidence of obesity and diabetes have increased. According to statistics cited by Food, Inc.:
- It used to be that Type 2 diabetes only affected adults. And now it's affecting children at epidemic proportions.
- One in three Americans born after 2000 will contract early onset diabetes. Among minorities the rate will be one in two.
- Snack food calories come largely from commodity crops: corn, wheat, and soybeans.
Food, Inc. also discusses the use of genetic engineering and the problems that it causes. Until the 1980s, patenting life was unknown. The documentary discusses Monsanto's efforts to control the food supply through genetic engineering and patents and the devastating impact that this has had on small farmers whose crops have been contaminated by Monsanto's patented genes.
A viable alternative?
Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms in Shenandoah Valley, VA, provides an example of an alternative to CAFOs: a family farm producing food organically. The FDA tried to shut him down for alleged unsanitary conditions, but he was allowed to continue when laboratory tests showed much less bacterial contamination than what is typical of CAFOs.
Food, Inc. is an educational, informative documentary that I recommend to all Americans who care about their food and their health. My two main disagreements with Food, Inc. are these:
- The underlying assumption that evolution designed biological factors affecting our food supply such the cow's rumen
- The conclusion that we need a "new religion" to protect the environment
The call for a new religion overlooks the fact that we already have a religion that, if its teachings were followed, would protect the environment. That religion is called Christianity, though not all who claim to be Christian have followed its teachings. Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, said that the greatest commandments are these:
- Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
- Love your neighbor as yourself.
If we truly loved our neighbors as ourselves, we would not mistreat workers and taint the food supply. The problem in fulfilling the second-greatest commandment is that our human nature pulls us in opposite direction. That's where the object of the greatest commandment comes in. Man was created in God's image but fell from innocence through sin. His Son, Jesus, came, lived a sinless life, and died for our sins. If we accept that sacrifice, we can be reconciled to God and have help from God to love our neighbor as ourselves. Being in a right relationship with God promotes not only good food in this life but good fruit for all eternity.