I just finished watching the movie Food Inc. In fact, the credits are still rolling! I am deeply saddened and frustrated and shocked. I don’t know how we let it get so out of hand.
The biggest shocker was the amount of control the food companies have over the farmers. In the US, 70% of the meat supply is controlled by only 4 large corporations. These corporations hire farmers, and then tell them how to run their operations, what equipment to use, what breed of animals to grow, what to feed them, how to medicate them… The autonomous business decisions have moved from the farmer, to the corporation. The farmer ends up very much in debt (upgrading to all the new equipment and technology), and makes a very low income at the end of it all, about $18,000 per year on average. Many farmers in the documentary did not want to talk about their operations, for fear of losing their contract. One chicken farmer did let the cameras into her operation, only because she was so fed up with the whole system that she wanted to take a stand. She was also one of the only farmers that had chicken houses with windows – all the other farmers in the area kept their chickens in the dark. The reason? I am not sure. Why would you keep chickens in the dark, and purposely not have windows? Perhaps we are not supposed to see what goes on inside? In the end, the one farmer that talked to the cameras did lose her contract, due to failing to “upgrade” her chicken houses to be window-less.
Another thing that struck me was the corn. I knew that vast mono-cultures of corn were being grown in the US, but I did not know that 30% of land in the US is covered in corn crops. Shocking. According to the documentary, corn is so heavily subsidized by the government, that it is profitable to put it into almost every processed food in the grocery store. Y’know all those words on food labels that we don’t understand and cannot even pronounce? Apparently most of them are derived some way or another out of corn. We all know that the glucose-fructose in most processed foods is made from corn, and that it is making our kids obese and giving them type 2 diabetes. Why then is this subsidized instead of foods that are good for us?
As a result of the subsidization, the corn is so cheap, they feed it to cows.
Now, cows have not evolved to eat corn (they prefer grass) and that this is creating problems such that the cows have to be kept constantly on antibiotics to avoid disease. In the feedlots cows are creating massive amounts of manure that is toxic in such high concentrations, it can get into the water supply if not carefully monitored. I did not realize that the cows are standing ankle deep in their own shit, rubbing it all over themselves and each other, so if one cow has a disease or bacteria then they all have it. Then they are taken in for slaughter – and there is manure all over their bodies. How does shit not get in the meat? The sad thing is – it does get in the meat and that is why that little boy who was 2 years old died from eating a Jack in the Box hamburger.
Then there are the workers – I watched the movie Fast Food Nation a few years ago which also talked about the horrible conditions that meat processing workers endure, and the power that the large corporations have over them. Many workers now are immigrants (I guess no other Americans want the jobs), and the company controls their immigration status. It is pretty obvious that this gives the company a whole lot of control. Conditions are bad, and dangerous.
Now for the genetically modified foods, or GMOs. This is something I never really knew about until a few months ago. I would hear snippets about it, but did not know what foods were GMO and which were not. One thing that really stood out from me from this documentary is that 70% of processed foods in the grocery store contain some sort of GMO. Now I don’t mind the age old practice of grafting a pear branch to an apple tree, or creating hybrid seeds naturally. But when you get into the lab and mess around with the DNA of a cell, have we gone too far? What are the implications to nature? What are the implications to our health? Shockingly, 80-90% of corn, soybean and cotton in the US are GMO derived. I had no idea. In Canada, nearly all of our canola is genetically modified. This makes me sad. I love our beautiful canola fields, so bright and yellow in the summer. I wish they were not GMO, I wish they were natural.
So Canada, the US and Australia grow vast quantities of GMO crops, while Japan, New Zealand, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Greece and Ireland have banned them completely. Why do all these countries ban them while we grow them almost exclusively? What dangers do they see that we do not? Some African nations will not even accept GMO food as aid.
Then there are the GMO terminator seeds, which slap Mother Nature in the face by terminating fertility and producing only sterile seeds. What if that got out into nature?
Despite all this, there was a glimmer of hope in the movie: an organic sustainable farmer that made all his own business decisions, held his land and animals in high regard, and farmed like we used to farm 50 years ago – naturally without chemicals, without heaps of manure, without corn as feed. He held true to his values, and was not held hostage to a corporate contract. He sold his food directly to people, and they came from far and wide to buy it. He had his chicken tested for bacteria and compared it to chicken purchased at the supermarket, and found that his product had 133 psu while the supermarket chicken had 3700 psu (I am not sure what the psu stand for, but a 300 fold increase in bacteria sounds pretty gross).
This movie just solidified for me that I must continue to prepare much of my food myself, from scratch, so that I know what’s in it. I will also continue to shop at farmer’s markets. Direct food from farmer to customer provides the best income to the farmers, I am sure of it. The food chain is shorter, and the influence that the food companies have on the whole transaction is nil. I am also grossed out by the meat; I am not sure how to deal with that at the moment. I don’t think I can eat the store-bought meat anymore. I don’t know. We will see.
In the end, we can all do what the movie tells us to do – vote with our forks… three times a day.