Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Food, Inc.

Food, Inc. will change the way you think about food and where it comes from. This documentary on the food industry delves into the business behind food production and the dark side of farming.

A few multi-national companies control the vast amount of food production and dictate how farmers and growers run their operations. Though the documentary interviews individual farmers and workers, the huge corporations all seemed to decline to be interviewed.

The documentary shows chicken growing productions where enormous chicken houses without access to light are a primary method for producing chickens. The conditions inside the chicken houses are disgusting and chickens are packed together with little room to move. They are fed hormones and antibiotics which reduce the chick to adult gestation period from 70 to 49 days. This growth is so rapid that the internal organs and body structure are not equipped to support the chicken.

The documentary also shows enormous feed lot cattle productions where cattle are fed corn though the natural food is grass for cows. The cows stand in large amounts of their own manure which makes it much easier to spread Ecoli to the cows and sometimes ends up in the final product.

Workers at a pork processing plant in North Carolina are interviewed to discuss the poor working conditions and what seems to be uncaring nature of the company towards it's workers. The conditions for the animals when they are growing are poor as well with them being confined to a small cage rather than free to roam. It seems to be a mass production factory rather than an operation with good quality control and safety measures.

Large fast food operations such as McDonalds want virtually identical products every time and this has resulted in cookie cutter production of food instead of the production of cows, chickens, and pigs. Their high demand for identical factory animals has pushed the concepts of mass production feed lots and encourages unsanitary conditions through cost cutting.

There are now patent laws protecting specific strains of seeds which some companies have used to wield virtual monopoly power over farmers. One example mentioned in the documentary is the company Monsanto who controls 90% of all soybean production and forbids farmers from saving seed forcing them to continue purchasing seed from the company. The company resorts to strong arm tactics and regularly sues farmers and seed cleaners to further secure their monopoly under the auspices of protecting their soybean patent.

The government officials responsible for regulating the food industry often have direct ties back to the major companies so there would appear to be a strong conflict of interest in enforcing regulations.

A law called Kevin's law, named after a 2 year old who died following eating hamburger infected with Ecoli, has not become law yet but has had various versions proposed over the past 5 years. If passed this would give the USDA the ability to more closely regulate the meat and poultry industry to reduce pathogens in meat production and potentially shut down plants that breach health regulations. Feel free to contact your congress members to let them know of this proposed law.

As an alternative to mass production, examples of organic farming are presented. The animals are able to interact with each other and walk around freely similar to how they might in the wild. They eat natural foods rather than being force fed corn. A very articulate and humorous farmer name Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms in Virginia, has fully embraced this style of farming and runs a very successful operation. He talks about letting chickens be chickens and allowing the pigness of pigs. Though organic food costs a bit more, proponents say it taste better and is better for the eaters health. Large corporations such as Walmart and Target have begun selling organic food and this will help with economies of scale and cost reduction.

Throughout the documentary I found myself going "woah, your kidding right?" I won't say that I'll never eat fast food again or purchase non-organic but it definitely gives pause towards thinking about where the things you're eating come from. I definitely recommend this 90 minute video to everyone wanting a behind the scenes look at the food industry.

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