By MEGGIE. I. FOSTER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — When two best-selling authors turned Hollywood filmmakers Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan released a controversial new documentary titled Food, Inc., the agriculture industry quickly reacted to the film’s accusations of the U.S. food supply.
“On behalf of the 1 million family farmers and ranchers whose livelihoods depend on providing safe, wholesome and nutritious beef to American consumers, we feel compelled to offer a rancher’s review of the movie, Food Inc.,” said Tom Field, executive director of producer education for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assoc.
“While the filmmakers are certainly entitled to their opinion, their latest attempt to scare American consumers does not represent the true story of how we raise food in this country. People who want to learn where their beef comes from should visit farms and ranches, not a movie theater.”
In Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner, Schlosser and Pollan assert that the nation’s food supply is controlled by a handful of corporations that put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and the environment.
“We have bigger-breasted chickens, the perfect pork chop, insecticide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won’t go bad, but we also have new strains of E. coli – the harmful bacteria that causes illness for an estimated 73,000 Americans annually,” Schlosser claims.
The film also blames “industrial agriculture” for widespread obesity, particularly among children and epidemic level of diabetes among adults.
Featured interviews include, Schlosser, the author of Fast Food Nation, Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, along with Stonyfield Farms’ Gary Hirschberg and Polyface Farms’ Joel Salatin, who raises pastured pork and poultry.
“The irony is that the average consumer does not feel very powerful. They think that they are the recipients of whatever industry has put there for them to consume.
Trust me, it’s the exact opposite. Those businesses spend billions of dollars to tally our votes. When we run an item past the supermarket scanner, we’re voting,” said Hirshberg, founder of Stonyfield Farm.
In defense of livestock farmers’ livelihoods across the country, six major ag groups developed www.safefoodinc.org to dispel the myths and untruths in the recently released film.
“As a third generation rancher in Colorado, I take great pride in the job we do caring for animals and producing safe, high-quality beef for our family’s dinner table, and yours.
America’s beef ‘factories’ are nearly all family farms like mine,” said Field. “The fact is, more than 97 percent of U.S. beef cattle farms and ranches are family farms. Approximately, two-thirds have been under the same family ownership for two generations or more.”
Schlosser said during the film that when “You look at the labels and you see farmer this, farmer that. It’s really just three or four companies that are controlling the meat. We’ve never had food companies this big and this powerful in our history.”
The movie claims that in the 1970s, the top five beef packers controlled about 25 percent of the market, while today, the top four control more than 80 percent of the market.
“Like all consumers, my goal is to provide my family affordable, nutritious and flavorful foods,” said Field.
“I have no problem with people who have the desire and means to buy all of their food from local farmers’ markets.
But the truth is, the beef I produce and provide to my own family is the same great beef sold to consumers at their neighborhood grocery store or favorite restaurant.
That’s the miracle of today’s food system, great access to farm-fresh food at an affordable price.”
Released on Friday, June 12 in San Francisco, Calif., the film is set to debut in 20 cities in the next two weeks including Los Angeles, New York and Washington D.C., and Austin, Texas.
“The fact is they don’t want us to see how the food is made,” said Kenner during a recent visit to San Francisco. “They don’t want us to know what’s in it. And ultimately, they don’t want us talking about it.”
He added that members of 50 industrial food companies he contacted - including Monsanto, Perdue, Tyson and Smithfield - would not partake in the filmmaking. Monsanto claims that they expressed interest in participating in the film, however, their intentions went unnoticed.
Schlosser and Pollan also attack corn, claiming that it is only the largest crop raised in the United States because it is subsidized by the government. Additionally, they assert that corn is used too widely and is used in too many processed foods, adding to the U.S. obesity trend.
“The fact is, conventional U.S. field corn is a safe product, whether it is used in processed foods such as corn starch or corn syrup, whether it is fed to cattle and other livestock, or whether it is used as ethanol or fiber. Its versatility as a safe and inexpensive ingredient is second to none, which is why demand for it persists year after year,” said National Corn Growers Assoc. President Bob Dickey.
“This film’s producers don’t like the steps government, the food industry and commodity groups like NCGA have taken to keep food prices low and help feed the world’s hungry. We have the least expensive food of any nation, and for that we’re grateful.”
With nearly every commodity being attacked in one way or another, Dave Warner, communications director for the National Pork Producers Council felt the urgency to weigh in on the documentary as well.
“We’ve been involved in a coalition with corn, beef, poultry and the pork board to address the points made in this documentary,” said Warner. “Look, these guys are living in a fantasy world. It’d be nice if we could buy all local, but it’s not going to happen with the system they’d like us to have. We’d starve if that was the case.”
Richard Lobb, who serves as the public relations director for the National Chicken Council, representing some of the major poultry integrators, said that with this film, Pollan and Schlosser hope to “spur some kind of change in consumer minds.”
Additionally, they are developing curriculum for teachers that can be used to educate youth on how food is raised, favoring locally grown and organic production.
“This concerns us a little, not a lot because the fate of films of this nature is pretty dismal,” Lobb said, who was quoted in the film.
Dickey added, “Further, the movie’s producers offer no large-scale workable solution, just more outdated practices that will reduce yield and drive up costs – in effect, making sure fewer mouths are fed at a higher cost.
We urge them to look at the real costs and causes of obesity and its related health issues and recognize – along with the scientific experts – that corn is a healthy and safe natural food product.”
For more on the film, visit www.foodincmovie.com or to see the industry’s response check out www.safefoodinc.com