29 April 2010

Food Inc -- The Review

This movie combines material from Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma and Schlosser's Fast Food Nation.

In other words, the corporate domination of our food supply is bad for consumers, workers, the environment and animals. It's also bad for the farmers.

That's now new, but I was surprised and disturbed to see how:
  1. Monsanto is using legal pressure to destroy its competition in seed sales, regardless of the merit of its cases. (Isn't there a penalty for frivolous lawsuits?). This article (via DG) details Monsanto's massive -- and monopolistic-- price increases for seeds.
  2. How regulatory capture is HUGE within the FDA, USDA and other branches of government. Our food is not safe because the people who are supposed to keep it safe work for the companies that make it unsafe.
  3. Meatpackers employ a lot of illegal migrants. They have a deal with the INS (Homeland Security [sic]): They give INS 15 illegals a day so INS will not conduct large-scale raids that would disrupt business.
As usual, I was disgusted by the "food system" and glad that I have the money to buy good food.

Oh, and Wal-Mart looks good (again) for its pursuit of what customers want: Organics, or non rBST milk, or...

Bottom Line: The government will not take care of you if companies are paying it to take care of them.

5 comments:

Eric Perramond said...

No surprise on Monsanto - they contacted (directly!) one of my undergraduate students because of a blog story she wrote about soy agriculture in Argentina and the remarkably corrupt pricing structures they were implementing on the ground. She quoted locals and company officials there, and they tried to intimidate her directly by threatening legal action. She stuck to her guns, and they relented, fortunately.

uphearted said...

Hi David, I'd like to elaborate on the historical incompetency of the FDA in safety testing, as I am reading in the book Seeds of Deception by Jeffrey M Smith (the website is spiffy too). So if you don't have the book, allow me to share some quotes from the book:

Former director of the FDA's Bureau of Drugs Richard Crout said in a testimony in 1976:
"I want to describe the agency as I saw it. No one knew where anything was...There was absenteeism, there was open drunkenness by several employees, which went on for months; there was intimidation internally...People--I'm talkinga bout division directors and their staffs-would engage in a kind of behavior that invited insubordination; people tittered in the corners, throwing spitballs--now I'm describing physicians; people would slouch down in their chairs and not respond to questions; and moan-and-groan, the sleeping gestures. This was a kind of behavior I have snot seen in any other institution from a grown man...FDA has a long-term problem with the recruitment of personnel, good, scientific personnel."

Next bit: "At FDA morale stinks. Hundreds of people have either retired or quit in disgust. All the best people, who believed in working on behalf of public health, have gone." From a congressional aide in 1991

Granted these accounts are from decades ago, but 1991 is a more important year to check up on FDA integrity because that GM foods were trying to get into the market especially in the late 80's.

So there are dozens of political officers/top commissioners that have been bribed by the corn syrup mafia...er I mean biotech companies for a while. Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, I think both Bush's?...I wasn't really cognizant of these issues at the time since I was born aroud the time when GM food was being sent to the market. Another guy people may want to look up is Michael Taylor who was originally an attorney that wrote Monsanto's pro-biotech regulations to the gov't and after this job, he oversaw FDA policy for a bit (big responsibility?!) as "Deputy Commissioner of Public Policy" (a newly introduced position just for him!), then he later became VP of Public Policy at Monsanto later.

Yeah it would take me hours to summarise all the cases with the New Leaf potato Bt toxin causing retardation and slowed immunity effects in rats, severe allergies to StarLink corn, FlavrSavr tomato stomach lesions, antibiotic resistance markets, the CaMV...how scientists reported genetic activities and these products as dangerous, needing further comprehensive safety testing but was it really done? For many years, spokespeople usually never reported these warnings and obviously said otherwise to the media to assure the public. Well, plenty of people knew what was up so I guess there is some tiny buffer against complete corporate takeover of the (political) food system.

I didn't get a chance to watch Food, Inc. yet but I am working on an organic research farm right now (owned by MARS Inc, splendid) so the topics of water use, genetically engineered seeds and threats of GM alfalfa and chili are very real to me and this state of New Mexico. Any way thanks for sharing your review. I gota plant some potatoes now.

The Outsider said...

Milton Friedman took a stronger stand on regulation. He argued that regulatory capture is a feature not a bug. Companies want to be regulated so they can stop competing.

Hard to find contrary evidence.

albionwood said...

"Regulatory capture" or something like it happens even without overt corruption. It's really difficult to maintain a truly independent frame between the regulated community and the regulators; and where such exist, they tend to get hopelessly bogged down in legal maneuvers. More "efficient" to avoid that by working together... kind of a "soft corruption."

Even without that, the effect of regulation tends to strongly favor larger business entities. I saw that happen in the solid-waste-disposal industry, where the California regulations drove nearly all the independents into the portfolios of three big companies; and it's what small organic farmers currently fear from the proposed new food-safety standards. Cost of compliance falls disproportionately on smaller operators.

David Zetland said...

@all -- good comments.

@abionwood. Yes, and the same scale/compliance problems happens with water systems: http://aguanomics.com/2008/11/small-water-systems.html