Filmmaker Robert Kenner argues that health and safety - of the food itself, of the animals produced themselves, of the workers on the assembly lines, and of the consumers actually eating the food - are often overlooked in the giant US food production industry. Worse, much of it is deliberately hidden by corporations protecting their interests and even by regulatory agencies such as the USDA and FDA. Bigger breasted chickens, herbicide resistant soya beans and limitless supplies of minced hamburger beef all come at a price - including the danger of e coli bacteria that causes illness in an estimated 73,000 Americans annually.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
An activist-made film of considerable interest, Food, Inc is also a piece of investigative journalism that tells us a thousand things that are pertinent to eating everyday food. Did you know that chickens are now farmed to fatten in 45 days and grow bigger breasts (most popular part) than their pre-industrialised ancestors, which took over 70 days to be ready for consumption? Neither did I. It's done by methods that are not likely to endear themselves to the average city eater, which is why chicken moguls won't allow cameras inside the commercial coops. Nor will they talk to this filmmaker; and they're not the only ones. Wallmart is the only major corporation that does, and it explains how it's jumped onto the organic bandwagon.
Monsanto, the evil empire of this film, which has patented Round Up pesticide-resistant soya beans, takes a dictator's approach to farmers, with legal teams and on the ground enforcers generating fear and loathing among farmers. It, too, refuses to be interviewed by filmmaker Robert Kenner, as does the USA's biggest meat packing company.
And it's not only company execs that are silent: in one shocking scene, the mother of a young boy who died of e coli refuses to answer a question about how she has changed her eating habits for fear of being sued. Don't laugh, the US meat industry has done it before, suing Prha Winfrey when she declared on TV during the mad cow disease outbreak that she would never eat another hamburger. After she spent $1 million defending herself, the court found in her favour. How would a suburban mum go?
The aim of the filmmakers, they say, is to lift the veil on the underbelly of an industry that touches everyone; and they succeed. Some of the footage is confronting, the information is certainly surprising and at times shocking, and the filmmaking is technically effective. But it does cram a lot of information into 94 minutes - as did An Inconvenient Truth. You almost need a study guide to rehearse the film's information load; we publish an edited version of notes to help: see Insider Briefing. But see the film, because it's not just Americans who are at risk of tripping over the benefits of modernisation in which factory farms are anything but bucolic havens of pasture and peace.
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FOOD, INC. (PG)
CAST: Documentary featuring Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser
PRODUCER: Robert Kenner, Elise Pearlstein
DIRECTOR: Robert Kenner
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Richard Pearce
EDITOR: Kim Roberts
MUSIC: Mark Adler
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 20, 2010