the Food, Inc. movie and how food gets on your plate

Slideshow: 6 Things Food-Industry Execs Aren’t Telling You

A new movie about our food supply sheds light on food companies’ shady practices.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The new film Food, Inc., coproduced by Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation) and directed and coproduced by Robert Kenner, is critical, to say the very least, of our food industry. From modern food production’s origins in the factory-like design of the first McDonald’s restaurants to the concentrated factory slaughterhouses that bring us our pork, chicken, and beef, the movie shows how food gets from farm or factory to your plate and how this process wreaks environmental, social, and health havoc along the way.

For more independent films about food and the environment, see:
6 Fascinating Films for Hot Summer Weekends
For a documentary about the benefits of dumpster-diving, see:
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For an upbeat look at the power of small farmers, see:
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The film’s compelling footage and startling statistics are enough to make anyone angry about the way our nation’s food supply and food safety are handled. Fortunately, as the movie reminds us at the end, we all have three big chances every day to fight back: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Here are six of the food industry’s most carefully hidden secrets, according to Food Inc., and what you can do about them.

Food, Inc. is opening in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco this weekend. Visit to see when it's premiering in your neighborhood.

1. Beef, chicken, and pork producing companies really don’t want you to know how their animals are raised.

It’s actually illegal to show pictures of concentrated animal feeding operations, making it difficult for people to get a sense of how inhumane and polluting they can be. One aerial shot in the film shows a windowless Smithfield hog processing plant in which 2,000 pigs are slaughtered every hour. Another tale of two chicken farmers reveals that poultry producers Tyson and Perdue ask their contracted farmers to build windowless “tunnels” to house their chickens. One farmer lost her contract after refusing to replace her windowed chicken houses with the tunnelstyle buildings.

2. It’s illegal to question the safety of food from large companies.

When Food, Inc. interviewed a mother whose 2-year-old son, Kevin, had died from an E. coli infection caused by a tainted hamburger, she wouldn’t answer the question, “How have you changed the way you eat since this happened?” for fear of being sued. Enacted in 13 states, agricultural disparagement laws, often referred to as “veggie libel laws,” make it illegal to question the safety of a food product without sound science to back up any suspicion. This is the case despite the fact that the constitutionality of these laws has come under fire. Such laws also have prevented the labeling of meat from cloned animals and in some cases have been used by companies (such as Monsanto), to repeatedly sue dairies for labeling milk “hormone free.”

3. Lots of people in charge of regulating our food system come from the companies they’re supposed to regulate.

Executives from multinational companies like Monsanto and ConAgra have headed the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency and even sat on the Supreme Court. Clarence Thomas, who once served as a lawyer for Monsanto, wrote the Supreme Court opinion making it legal for Monsanto to patent its genetically modified soybeans as “intellectual property.” This made it illegal for farmers to harvest seeds from one year’s crop to use for the next year’s, a practice that had been in place for centuries.

4. Government subsidies may be making you fat.

Heavy lobbying from agricultural companies has provided them with government subsidies for corn, wheat, soybeans, and a lot of other commodity crops that often are turned into cheap and less-wholesome ingredients (such as high-fructose corn syrup, lecithin, and practically everything that goes into a Twinkie). Result: $1 hamburgers, 50-cent bags of chips, and 2-liter bottles of soda that sell for less than a bottle of water. Corn syrup, the filmmakers point out, is a major ingredient in everything from ketchup to Cheez-Its to soda—and many other forms of junk or fast food. Since corn and soy can’t be turned into broccoli, pears, or peaches, often healthy food can’t compete, pricewise, with the subsidized junk food in the middle of the store.

5. Companies spend billions to convince you their food is natural.

Pastoral scenes, “farm fresh” labels, and other signs of “all-natural goodness” are designed to make people think food comes from a old-fashioned farm, when in reality, it’s produced by a mix of science and technology and may have never seen a blade of grass. “These guys are spending millions of dollars to convince you that what they’re doing is real and natural,” Kenner says.

6. There is something you can do about it.

Just look at Wal-Mart, the filmmakers say. In response to increased consumer demand for milk produced without synthetic growth hormones, the world’s largest retailer has committed to no longer selling any rBGH- or rBST-treated milk, which doesn’t bode well for the future of synthetic growth hormones in the dairy supply chain. In addition, U.S. consumer pressure led to country-of-origin labeling laws that now allow you to know where your food is coming from.

Here’s how to vote for a healthier food system with your fork and your food budget:

• Purchase organic food and meat from humanely raised animals.

• Support small farmers to ensure a diverse supply chain. In the 1970s, the top five beef producers controlled about 25 percent of the market; now they control close to 80 percent. “This is the first time in history we’ve had so few companies controlling our food supply,” says Kenner. That lack of diversity seriously weakens food safety.

• Give up, or cut back on, soda and other junk food. It’s not only made with cheap, unhealthy ingredients, but those ingredients often come from genetically modified crops whose health effects haven’t been well studied.

• Demand change. Write your legislators and ask them to support food-safety laws, such as Kevin’s Law, named for the 2-year-old who died of E. coli–tainted meat. The law would give the USDA the power to shut down plants that repeatedly produce tainted meats, something it currently doesn’t have the power to do.

Make your voice heard on these issues: Go to or to get in touch with your elected officials.


Published on: June 11, 2009

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I've seen the movie

I've seen the movie yesterday. It really got me wondering.

This documentary movie is

This documentary movie is shocking. I saw it only few months ago and may I say that it really changed my life and also my behavior. I would like to see more of these movies on Tucson direct TV,because the topic is very important for our current lifestyle. The consumption society is getting out of control and we are the ones who suffer, without even knowing it.

What a fantastic piece! It is

What a fantastic piece! It is amazing how broadenng our children's palates make them so much more open to experiencing other cultures beyond their plate. And, I agree with Amy....enough with the swine flu already! Troon North real estate

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This post can help us figure the issues we are facing lately. Essay | Thesis | Dissertation | Coursework | Assignment

They definitely hide a lot of

They definitely hide a lot of information. I am not sure why they do this so much. There needs to be a lot of changes with this. social bookmarking submission service

These companies aren't to blame...

The fact that these companies are trying to maximize profits in order to "get ahead" is no fault of their own. We have all been taught to do what we can in order to survive. Our society today looks very highly upon those individuals who are "motivated" and "intelligent" enough to climb to the top of the totem pole. It's the worthless pieces of paper that are making our legislators back these companies that are poisoning us.

There is something very wrong with our society today and it lies in the monetary system itself. Write to your legislators, do what you can for now, but it's no use in the long run. It's a losing battle against massive corporations. They'll find new and innovative ways of deceiving you...all in the name of profit.

For real change, watch Zeitgeist Moving Forward for free and join the movement.

Ask questions

Is eating organic really better?
-Look at the research, there is no true proof that organic foods are that much better for you. If you are buying from a local farmer that uses no pesticides, I would agree that that the product that you are getting is both better for you and better for the environment. But do you really think that we can sustain the world using organic methods for food production? And currently, 'organic' on a label is being used for marketing more than it is truthful. What is organic? People currently have an opportunity to voice their opinion on, where the NOP is looking for both public and industry feedback on organic labeling. The 'organic' chickens that people have an idea of them roaming through fields is quite far-fetched in many cases, especially when you are buying organic chicken from a large grocery store. The main regulation is that animals need exposure to the outdoors, which may be as little as an open window. Where's money coming from for someone to go around and check everyone out that says 'organic' on a product.

'Made with organic ingredients'= just needs to be put on the ingredient list

'Organic'= >70% organic ingredients, what else is in there? And how many people are looking?

'100% organic'= In my opinion, probably the only legitimately organic product that doesn't mislead the consumer.

How many industry/marketing people do you think are leaping to write organic on a label to mark the price up?

Of key importance: carbon foot print, food miles, nutritional benefit. How good is an organic product if its being shipped to New York all the way from California?

There ARE two sides to every story

As a dairy farmer's daughter and employee in the agricultural industry, I find that there's the farmer side of the story that isn't be told in many cases. Please keep in mind a few points when reading this or other stories:

1. Farmers do NOT make a rich living by being in production agriculture because food prices are so cheap compared to production costs. Farmers are farmers because they absolutely LOVE what they do. I work in the Registered Holstein industry and those I work with LOVE to take care of cows. Yes, they do provide a source of income for us, but they wouldn't if we didn't take care of them. We want and MUST take care of our animals for them to produce milk.

2. Milk is tested and retested before it enters the human food chain. Be assured that it passes all tests and is free of antibiotics and anything else that doesn't naturally occur in milk before hitting the supermarkets. bST is a naturally occurring hormone found in milk.

3. Most all of us care about our jobs and feel that feeding the world is our calling. Let's not make it a war of worlds. Get the facts - and listen to both sides of the story!

Be careful what you ask for: you may get it

Is a farmer and long-time supported of organic and natural food production and consumption I have two things to add to the final point of this well-considered and insightful story:

1. When encouraging your representatives (at both state and federal levels) to put more stringent food safety laws into effect (which is certainly important) be sure to let them know that legislation must be framed in a way that it won't shut down the small, local producers of high quality foods you want to continue to be able to buy and enjoy.
One way to do this is to write food safety laws so that they exempt farmers and producers who sell directly to their consumers from requirements that would have a small financial impact on mega-producers but crippling financial impact on small farmers. For example: Requiring that all salad greens get a disinfecting bath or be irradiated and that X-number of samples from each batch be tested for pathogens at the producer's expense may, in fact, be an excellent idea for operations that handle greens by the truck load -- but it would be unsustainable for a small producer who washes her greens in ten pound batches or not at all (do you really want that beautiful, clean, just-picked head of heirloom lettuce at the farmers' market dipped in chlorine anyway?) Faced with the costs and time required to comply that small producer would most likely stop producing lettuce, leaving you back at the supermarket buying tired, tasteless leaves shipped thousands of miles from the mega-farms.
2. Also ask your representatives to be sure that food safety laws be firmly based on scientific fact, rather than quick fixes that sound logical but actually have little impact on real problems. For example: When the Avian Flu was topmost in everyone's mind legislators were quick to point the finger on small producers with flocks of healthy birds -- even though there was no solid evidence that outdoor birds were more likely to become infected (despite what you saw daily in the media) and quite a bit of solid evidence that birds in confinement mega-farms were at high risk and most likely the source of dangerous strains in the first place. Forcing small farmers to raise their birds inside a "nice safe building" with no outdoor access sounded logical and suited the big poultry lobby to a T -- but it didn't improve human safety one iota, put farmers who couldn't or wouldn't confine their flocks out of the poultry business, and deprived local consumers of the eggs and fresh chicken they wanted and enjoyed.

So, yes. PLEASE demand change -- just be sure to specify what that change should accomplish and what it should protect.

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