Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Food, Inc. Horror Movie

Greetings from "My Right to Safe Food"

When I watched this documentary a while back, I was horrified, it left me feeling outraged. Worse still to see the plight of a courageous young mother fighting a legal battle seeking justice when the fate of her two year old child was sealed after consuming a hamburger! You may not wish to believe this, then watch this staggering documentary Food, Inc, if you have not already done so.

This is the plight of gullible consumers all over the globe who knowingly or unknowingly leave their fate to the mercy of a handful of MNC's who dictate our food chain. Each day I watch zillions throng the dubious Fast Food chains striding there with such gusto. Not the slightest of doubt inhibits these consumers be it nutrition nor the safety aspect instead they ingest what is being dished out with much pride. While the West is being cautious, the East is adapting to their unhealthy patterns with such ease. The attitude is "After all they are reputed brands Mac Donalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and it must be safe!"

The poorest people are worst hit and hurt because fast processed is cheap food, artificially cheapened by a relentless drive for cost-cutting and efficiency-saving including the maltreatment of workers and animals. As for our country, adulteration of almost the entire food chain is taking new leaps....lentils notoriously mixed with fodder grains cheaply imported. So, if the prices drop, there is tendency to believe that the woes are being heard by crafty policy makers.

Farmers in our country, who once was the pride, now reduced to a begging bowl is so insignificant. Yet I am frequently asked about their welfare in my sessions " If the farmers accept Bt Cotton seeds or for that matter high yielding hybrid seeds and benefits from them, then, why are farmers committing suicides? My answer - The marketing rationale used by the muscle of industry is bound to succeed no matter what the end product is. A direct marketing approach is applied " Offer FREE (sterile) seeds along with corresponding FREE pesticides/herbicides for a season or a year with value additions of "service with a smile" an offer of technical support till such crop yields. Both the soil and seeds by then are so contaminated, with this carrot dangled the lured gullible farmer thinks " BENEFITS"only. So off he goes back to the seed corporate for his seeds the following year expecting the same service, only to discover that he now has a choice either to extol a ludicrous amount (take credit) to purchase seeds along with the corresponding chemicals or Hang himself. That is how suicides happen.

As for consumers - you are left to wonder where the equation has gone wrong? Why the escalating price rise? Why does one have to dole out more? Simple - A once self contained and sustainable economy is now fast reduced to an importing economy. When you import, you hasten unemployment. With a faulty farm policy by the so called custodians of our country, whose faulty vision is to drive farmers, fast out of their fields. Thereon, their land is usurped in the name of progress in science and technology!

As for publicity - the media, government, MNC's ensure that one gets to read and hear only such stories that fill their coffers and not that of the farmers! While consumers suffer price hikes in essential food commodities, since time needed to educate themselves on the source of food is of little consequence, therefore the choice is none other than face the onslaught of diseases.

Following which, a whole chain of industries vastly stand to benefit with this magnanimous generous support to build the empire of pharmacies, hospitals and the insurance companies who laugh their way to their banks. Why blame anyone for it?

When the power house of energies "your bodies and minds" is treated like a dustbin, then what is to be expected? This voice of reason and anger is dead. A scary plight.

As mentioned below "Food, Inc. ends on a hopeful note that consumers can change things through purchasing power. After all, Wall Mart, the world’s top retailer, has taken the lead in rejecting recombinant bovine growth hormone milk because the customers don’t like it. And it is now stocking organic grass-fed meat because the customers want it. So, it is down to consumer choice and triumph of the ‘free-market’; an altogether too rosy view.".

Wake up, watch out and take charge of your food

In solidarity

Sangita Sharma
The Food, Inc. Horror Movie

A film that exposes how the corporate food industry sickens and enslaves the nation, but leaves many stones unturned. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

A fully referenced version of this review is posted on ISIS members’ website and may be downloaded here


Food on film: The poster for filmmaker Robert Kenner's 'Food, Inc.' features a bar-coded cow

Modern Times taken to logical conclusion

It looks like a scene from Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 movie Modern Times, only worse. The assembly lines process factory-farmed chicken carcasses, hog carcasses, and gigantic extrusions of ground up cattle to feed the supermarket shelves and the fast-growing fast food industry. The workers are illegal immigrants bussed in from Mexico or elsewhere, paid inhuman wages, and then turned in to the police when surplus to requirement.

Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Kenner’s documentary Food, Inc. [1], nominated for the 82nd Academy Awards, is intent on exposing the graphic horrors of the food we eat, starting in the USA.

The narrators are well-known food critics and journalists: Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation. They take us on a forbidden journey behind the sanitized cling film-wrapped packages of meat and gleaming tomatoes.

We are inside a henhouse stuffed solid with chickens, having found the only farmer brave enough to show it on film and risk offending the corporations that sell farmers the housing and buy the chickens raised. Our depressed, “beyond caring” but defiant farmer says she has had to use such large quantities of antibiotics that she herself has become “immune” to them.

We spy cattle feedlots out in the open, equally crowded with animals unable to move; we catch a furtive glimpse of a horribly crippled cow about to meet its fate in the slaughterhouse lot.

Hens, hogs, cattle, all meat-producing machines spending the best part of their nasty, brutish and short lives knee-deep in their own faeces till they are mercifully culled; and before they collapse under their own weight or from some unknown illness. It’s enough to turn your stomach, if not turn you into a vegan outright.

But wait, things can be difference

An idyllic scene of contented cows grazing in green pastures on a farm in Virginia; the farmer tells you cows are herbivores meant to eat grass. “They don’t eat corn or dead cows or chicken manure.” He says. Hogs and chickens roam freely and happily. All animals are slaughtered right there out in the open, and sold direct to customers, one man having driven 5 hours for the privilege.

The authorities tried to close the farm down, but the farmer had scientists test the animals and certify that his had ten times less bacteria than those in the big slaughterhouse.

What’s so bad about grain-fed cows?

One of the consequences of feeding grain such as corn to cows is that because grain is not easy to digest, it remains in the stomach and grow bacteria, including the deadly E. coli 0157. A two year-old boy died after eating an infected hamburger. It led to the recall of enough ground beef to feed the whole nation. Remember the assembly line where tonnes of ground cattle are made into hamburger patties? One infected cow contaminates the whole lot.

Fast-food & the obesity epidemic

Food-borne illnesses like E. coli and Salmonella outbreaks are on the rise, but they pale in comparison to the obesity epidemic that has gripped the nation, and indeed the globe, whenever and wherever the fast food industry has infiltrated. And it is the poorest people who get hurt the most because fast food is cheap food, artificially cheapened by a relentless drive for cost-cutting and efficiency-saving including the maltreatment of workers and animals, by corporate control and consolidation of the food chain, and by huge public subsidies on agriculture.

The scene cuts to an American Latino family of four with only one dollar to spend on lunch but must pay hundreds on drugs each month to keep the father’s illness under control. Yes, cheap fast food does make you obese and obesity is the single most important risk factor for diabetes, also an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease and cancer. As fast food consumption increases, so obesity rises in all age and ethnic groups, and most worrying, type 2 diabetes appears in children and adolescents.

Why does fast food make people fat?
It is high in all the usual culprits: sugar, fats, carbohydrates, salt and numerous artificial additives and food colourings [2] (Food Colouring Confirmed Bad for Children. Food Standards Agency Refuses to Act , SiS 36). However, further investigations on my part revealed that a ubiquitous ingredient in fast food, monosodium glutamate, used as flavour enhancer and appetite stimulant, actually increased weight gain in mice and humans. That is just one among many other pieces of relevant information left out of the film (see Box), which completes the devastating picture of the false profits and true costs of food incorporated.

Corporate agri-
and food business in the USA accounts for more than 12 percent of the nation’s GDP. It is subsidized by the taxpayer at $180 billion a year, some 12 percent of the sector’s total value. A quick calculation indicates that 83.3 percent of the subsidies go to the big agribusiness and food corporations, and only 16.7 percent go to the farmers, making up half of the farmers’ net income.

Cheap food is profitable for corporations, but the price is steep for the rest of society, quite apart from the subsidies. Food borne illnesses are estimated to cost more than $35 billion a year in medical care and lost productivity. But that is dwarfed by obesity, estimated at US $140 billion a year in extra medical spending alone, not counting lost productivity due to illnesses and deaths.

False profits and true costs of food inc

Global food retails sales are about $4 trillion annually, with supermarkets/hypermarkets accounting for the largest share of sales (more than 50 percent).

Walmart is world’s top retailer [3]

The US food and fibre market contributed $1.24 trillion, or 12.3 percent to US GDP and accounted for 16.7 percent of its total employment in 2001 [4]

In 2005, the US government paid $180 billion in direct and indirect subsidies to agriculture (equivalent to 11.8 percent of the total food and fibre market that year). This consisted of more than $30 billion in direct payments to US farmers, and $150 billion indirect subsidies, including tax breaks on fuel and equipment, tariffs, protective pricing, drought loss payments and purchasing surpluses. The biggest recipients are the largest corporate farmers and commodity giants like Cargill and ADM, agrichemical and seed suppliers like Monsanto and Dupont, Fanjui family’s Florida Crystals sugar empire and meat producers Tyson and Smithfield [5].

According to Daniel T. Gristwold, director of the Center for Trade Policy of the libertarian think tank Cato Institute, over the past 20 years, farm programmes have cost US non-farm households a cumulative $1.7 trillion [6]

Net farm income is forecast to be US$63 billion in 2010, up $6.7 billion (11.8 percent) from 2009, but $1.4 below the average of $64.5 billion in the previous 10 year [7]

James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank (1995-2005), estimated the total annual global agricultural subsidy at $350 billion, nearly $1 billion a day, representing 50 percent of net farm income in the US and the EU. If subsidies were not in place, US farmers would need to double their prices to make a living [5]

· USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) estimated total food expenditures for all food consumed in the United States was $1.16 trillion in 2008; spending away from home was $565 billion; of which, restaurants accounted for $440 billion [8]

· The US fast food industry is worth $240 billion a year [9]

· An estimated 76 million cases of food borne illness are reported in the US each year (26 000 per 100 000 of the population), resulting in 323 914 hospitalizations and 5 194 deaths [10], costing the nation more than $35 billion in medical care and lost productivity

· Obesity is increasing in all age and ethnic groups; in children and adolescents, the prevalence of being overweight rose by 50 percent between 1995 and 2005. A study involving 3031 young adults both black and white found those with frequent visits to fast food restaurants gained an extra 4.5 kg body weight and had a 104 percent greater increase in insulin resistance [11]

· Obesity rates increased by 37 percent between 1998 and 2006, from 18.3 to 24.1 percent of population; the cost of extra annual medical spending due to obesity reached $147 billion in 2008 [12]

· One ingredient, monosodium glutamate (MSG), used as flavour enhancer and appetite stimulant in practically all fast foods, is routinely injected into mice to create obese mice in laboratories [13]. A study on 750 Chinese men and women aged between 40 and 59 in three rural villages in north and south China showed that people who use MSG in their food are more likely to be overweight or obese, even though they have the same amount of physical activity and total calorie intake than people who don’t use it [14]
> What has allowed food inc. to happen?
> There is a revolving door between US government regulators and agri-food corporations, all but one have declined to be interviewed for the film.
> From off-stage, Monsanto casts a long dark shadow. The biotech corporation has been allowed to build a monopoly on patented genetically modified (GM) seeds, and planted them on 90 percent of the nation’s soybean, corn and cotton fields in just 13 years. It is allowed to harass and intimidate farmers, not just for saving its GM seeds illegally, but for patent infringement, should a farmer choose not to grow GM crops, and the non-GM crop becomes contaminated, inevitably, by the neighbours’ GM seeds or pollen.

Not only has Monsanto et al prevented GM products in the supermarket from being labelled, so no one can say whether GM food has harmed people, some states have enacted a food libel law that forbids anyone to say bad things about a food product that leads to loss of profit for the food industry.

If you think food was bad enough before GM, you should prepare for worse, though Food, Inc does not touch on the subject. There is now a substantial body of evidence indicating that genetic modification may be inherently hazardous. Whenever and wherever independent studies are carried out to test the effects of GM feed on animals, scientists find increased illnesses, sterility or deaths; moreover, they find the same problems when the raw data from studies submitted by the companies to get approval for their GM crops are reanalysed; and farmers and farm workers are witnessing the same happening in the fields [15] (GM is Dangerous and Futile, SiS 40). The raw data from companies are obtainable only through the law courts, as they are routinely kept secret as ‘commercial business information’
> A farmer who has stubbornly held out against planting GM crops had problems finding a seed cleaner for his non-GM seeds. When he finally found one, the seed cleaner was sued by Monsanto, and under extreme duress, settled out of court.
> It is shocking that a nation that regards itself as a model of democracy should allow its people to be victimized by corporate serfdom. It is also surprising that there has been no popular movement against Monsanto et al. The recent victory against the introduction of Monsanto’s GM egg plant (Bt brinjal) in India is an inspiration. It shows what a coalition of grassroots non-government organisations, farmers, honest scientists, local politicians, and consumers can achieve [16].
> Will Wall Mart save our food?
> Food, Inc. ends on a hopeful note that consumers can change things through purchasing power. After all, Wall Mart, the world’s top retailer, has taken the lead in rejecting recombinant bovine growth hormone milk because the customers don’t like it. And it is now stocking organic grass-fed meat because the customers want it.
> So, it is down to consumer choice and triumph of the ‘free-market’; an altogether too rosy view. What about the poor families that cannot afford to buy organic? What choice is there for them? What about the farmers that can’t get non-GM seeds and whose organic crops get contaminated by their neighbours’ GM crops so they lose their organic certification?
> Farmers need to be supported by food and farming cooperatives
> Consumer demand for organic produce is indeed rising and outstripping supply, yet farmers are not converting to organic; not even when the country is in fact facing an ecological meltdown from its GM crops [17] (GM Crops Facing Meltdown in the USA, SiS 46), another aspect that Food, Inc. does not go into. The three major crops, soybean, corn and cotton, genetically modified for just two traits, herbicide tolerance and insect resistance, are ravaged by super weeds and secondary pests as farmers fight a losing battle with more of the same.
> US farmers are isolated from one another, from consumers, and from the entire food chain. They are simply not receiving enough support from society in general. One model that has worked well is a food and farming cooperative based on macrobiotic principles operating in Italy [18] Cooperative for Health, Food Security and Environment Against the Credit Crunch (SiS 42). This could help implement the fundamental shift to organic farming practices that would put an end to the Food Inc., horror, deliver good health and nutrition to the nation, and much more besides [19, 20] (Food Futures Now: *Organic *Sustainable *Fossil Fuel Free , ISIS publication; Organic Agriculture and Localized Food & Energy Systems for Mitigating Climate , SiS40)

Dr. Craig Holdrege of the Nature Institute based in New York, USA, has initiated a project on Unintended Effects of Genetic Manipulation

1 comment:

  1. Loved your article. I couldn't agree more.I'd like to get into farming in a few years. Right now, I work as a S/w engineer .It feels good to know a person who's been there n done that in what I wanna delve into :)