Friday, April 23, 2010

Food Inc. Revisited

PBS recently aired the 2009 documentary Food Inc. I wrote about it here before, but took notes this time and wanted to write some more about it since it brings up important topics which affect us all.

The way we eat has changed more in the past 50 years than the previous 10,000. 47,000 products in the average supermarket give us the illusion of diversity. The food industry does not want you to know where the food comes from, otherwise you would not eat it. A small group of multinational corporations control food, from seed to supermarket. 70% of supermarket food is genetically modified.

McDonald's is the nation's largest purchaser of beef, and they want a hamburger to taste the same in every one of their establishments. As far as meat producers, in 1970 the top 5 controlled 20% of the market. Today, the top 4 control 80% of the market. The big meat companies include Tyson, Smithfield, ADM and Cargill. Cows are fed corn not grass since it is cheaper and they put on weight faster. Farmers are given subsidies to grow corn, and high fructose corn syrup is included in a wide range of products since it is cheaper than sugar to use as a sweetener. Foods that contain this are highly processed. Corn is found in so many products these days, including ketchup, cheese, twinkies, batteries, peanut butter, cheese-its, salad dressing, coke, jelly, charcoal, diapers, motrin and meat. So much cheap corn being fed to animals creates low meat prices. Grass fed beef will not have as many e.coli bacteria issues as corn fed beef. Acid resistant e. coli develops from feeding cows corn. The cows are ankle deep in manure and their hides are caked with manure, which often ends up in the meat. Ammonia is being added to meat to cut down on the chances of e. coli contamination, but do we really want to be ingesting ammonia? What are the long term health consequences? In 1996 Oprah Winfrey was sued by the beef industry for making disparaging remarks about beef after the mad cow outbreak. Regulations are not enforced like they should be since often it is former beef industry people who work for the FDA and determine policy. In 1972, the FDA performed 50,000 food safety inspections. In 2006 that number fell to 9,164. In the 1970s there were thousands of slaughterhouses, and today there are only 13. Illegal aliens are sometimes used to work there since they provide cheap labor. That type of work has become very dangerous.

"Cheap food" is not really cheap in terms of health consequences, effects on the environment and the workers in the food factories are often mistreated. Our country has skewed the costs toward the bad calories. The junk food is subsidized which makes it so cheap. Humans are hard wired to crave salt, fat and sugar. High fructose corn syrup and refined carbohydrates lead to spikes in insulin levels. This wears down the system by which the body processes sugar, and can lead to diabetes. Of the children born after 2000, 1 in 3 will get diabetes.

Monsanto made the chemicals DDT and agent orange, and they rule the farming industry with an iron fist. Farmers who save Monsanto seeds and re-plant them will be investigated and prosecuted. They operate like Microsoft in that they own the intellectual property and the patents. Farmers do not have the money to battle a multinational corporation like Monsanto, so they must do as they dictate. Many former Monsanto executives have gone to work for the federal government where they can make and enforce laws that benefit that company. Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas is a former Monsanto employee.

Growth hormones and antibiotics are put into animals, and chickens that used to be full grown after 70 days in 1950 are now full grown in 48 days. The chickens get so big so quickly that they often cannot walk since their legs cannot support their bodies. Companies like Tyson and Perdue would not be interviewed for the film. They did not want the insides of their chicken houses to be shown. They have regulations that chicken farmers must follow or their contracts will be cancelled. It costs $300,000 to build a poultry house, so farmers need to accumulate lots of debt. The average farmer only makes $18,000 per year so they become slaves to the companies that buy their goods.

The film Food Inc. showed some bleak facts about agriculture and nutrition, but also said that we have the power to change the industry. We can vote with our wallets and make the right choices by staying away from bad foods. If we do not support fast food restaurants and quit buying the processed foods and junk food it will cause change. The film makers pointed at the tobacco industry and how their power has declined due to the evidence of negative health consequences. I have to wonder, what role does what we eat play in health issues that have become epidemic in this country? Does the food we eat contribute to cancer, alzheimers, parkinsons, autism or other issues? What can we do? Grow a garden. Support your local farmers market. Buy food that is locally produced or organic if you can. Look for foods that do not contain hormones or antibiotics. Buy beef that comes from grass fed cows, not corn fed. You can change the world with each bite.
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