I’m a huge documentary fanatic. Among the many fantastic documentaries that exist on Netflix, one of the most informative and eye-opening ones would have to be Food Inc., a documentary that gives and inside look on the American food system and the places that companies go wrong for their own economic benefit, hurting the consumer, planet, and animals involved in the system. Despite being a very well-produced film considering it was made in 2008, Food Inc. is really what sparked my interest in looking into the wrongdoings of the food industry that do not appear at the forefront.
The important thing that the documentary does throughout is let go of the numerous theories on exactly what kind of diet Americans should be eating and instead focus on the structure of the food industry in America. We all know already that processed and sugary foods are bad for us. However, no matter how many films are made on how bad the typical American diet is, a significant number of people aren’t going to change the way they eat for numerous reasons. This is where “Food Inc.” is very unique as they look into how the government and large corporations control the industry altogether, consequently limiting the choices that Americans have.
An article published by Allison Aubery from npr states that “Americans are told to fill 50 percent of our plates with fruits and vegetables. But here’s the contradiction, as the researchers see it: U.S. agriculture policies ‘focus on financing the production of corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, sorghum, dairy and livestock,’ the researchers write.” In that sense, those products are all made less expensive to both the consumer and producer. They also provide lots of food very quickly so there are no food shortages and generate significant profit for the producer while remaining inexpensive for the consumer. Accordingly, people are attracted to cheaper foods and in many cases for low-income households, it’s the only option.
Obviously, the seemingly simple solution would be for the government to subsidize foods that are healthier for the human diet. However, considering how closely linked the food industry and federal government are, there is absolutely no chance that that would ever happen.
For example, Monsanto is one of the largest agrochemical and agricultural firms who owns the very popular product Round-Up and also has a patented genetically modified soybean seed which is resistant their herbicide. Monsanto products appear in countless popular food brands including Coca Cola, Kelloggs, Hershey’s Nestle, Quaker, and Nature Valley. 90 percent of soybeans in the industry are Monsanto’s, and farmers who plant Monsanto seeds are restricted from cleaning the seeds to plant again the next growing season. Those who are caught are investigated by Monsanto associates and almost all the time sued for patent infringement. The problem occurs here: current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was an attorney for the multinational corporation Monsanto. And according to “Food Inc”., “Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion in a case that allowed these companies to prevent farmers from saving their own seed.”
Justice Thomas isn’t the only politician connected to Monsanto and other food industry dominators, others include former Monsanto Lab Supervisor and current FDA Branch Chief
Margaret Miller, Monsanto CEO from 1995-2000 and Pres. Clinton advisor Robert Shapiro, and Smithfield Board of Directors member and former North Carolina Senator Wendell Murphy. These political figures who corrupt the government are exactly why we can’t get anywhere on improving the food industry. The system that is supposed to protect the American people is prioritizing the interests of big business over the safety of the common person.
Throughout the film, it is mentioned that the way food is produced today is more like an assembly line. The meat industry isn’t raising chickens, cows, or pigs anymore; they are purely producing food. And with a system of factory-like production, the faster and more efficient these products can be manufactured, the better. For the meat industry, this means filling animals with hormones that decrease production time and increase the size of the animal, feeding them cheap grains like corn instead of what they’re meant to consume, and raising more of them on less land, creating an uncleanly environment. Consequently, increased production efficiency leads to a larger risk for cases of food-borne illnesses including E. coli and salmonella. And because of the ways that animals are raised and then packaged for consumption, if one package of meat is contaminated, it is likely that many others both in that store and nationwide are contaminated as well.
Those are only a few examples of where the food industry goes wrong in providing safe and healthy food for the American public. And the reason that the methods of food production in the US aren’t widely known is because corporations like the USDA and FDA don’t allow it. Sure, it’s the individual’s responsibility to be aware of what they are eating and how it may affect them. But when the industry actively restricts the consumer’s knowledge, it is absolutely unfair to blame the individual when firms and government use their power to exploit the public.