We know too little about the food we eat
Posted originally January 29, 2010
IF YOU HAVE NOT YET SEEN the documentary ‘Food, Inc.,” we strongly recommend that you rent it soon. It will not only change the way you eat, but the way you shop for groceries. Without sensationalizing the facts, the film builds a powerful case against agribusiness and its major players, just a few of whom control what we eat. It traces the rise of agribusiness to the explosive growth of fast food restaurants in the 1950s.
McDonald’s, for one, became such a large purchaser of beef that the company almost single-handedly reshaped the meat-packing industry. Because only the very largest suppliers could meet demand from McDonald’s, and because the ground beef itself had to be standardized across the U.S., meat-packing came to be dominated by just a few giant suppliers. They transformed the business into a manufacturing operation, consolidating it so that only fourteen slaughterhouses remain from the many thousands that once served wholesalers and retailers.
At the same time, the corn business was experiencing similar growth and consolidation. America’s farms are now geared toward producing corn so cheaply that we can undersell growers in every other country in the world, no matter how low their wages. Because of this, most cattle in this country no longer graze on grass; rather, they spend their lives in pens, fattened on corn. The sanitation problems that have resulted have only increased despite the growing use of antibiotics by feedlots. As the film documents, E coli outbreaks throughout the U.S. have become increasingly more numerous and lethal, killing children in particular with a vile ferocity that overwhelms the best efforts of doctors to save them.
Monsanto comes off as a villain for the bullying tactics it has used to control the soybean business. Years ago, its patented soybean held a ten percent share of the market. That has increased to around 90 percent, and the company has unleashed a phalanx of lawyers on the farm belt to extinguish the remaining 10 percent who still dare to plant seeds not engineered by Monsanto. One of the firm’s primary targets is a man who cleans soybean seeds so that they can be stored and planted later. He reportedly has thrown in the towel, unable to meet the legal costs of battling such a powerful and well-financed enemy. His defeat will probably spell the end for all others in the same line of business.
The makers of this film were unable to elicit a single response from any of the companies reported on. We recommend it in particular because it does not sensationalize its subject. Rather, it musters the facts in a way that will leave you convinced that Americans know dangerously little about the food they eat.