“It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.” — Will Rogers, 1879–1935
Millions of Americans, apparently, are paying to watch a documentary that shows the “dark underbelly” of America’s food system. They’re flocking to see Food, Inc., a film designed to scare consumers about the safety of their food and cause them to loathe the companies who supply it. Yes, they’re paying the same price for tickets to this film as they would to view the new Harry Potter or Star Trek movies. Maybe that shouldn’t surprise us, knowing that these same Americans do silly things such as buy quart bottles of “purified” drinking water even though the water out of the tap is perfectly safe to drink.
No, we shouldn’t be surprised. But we should be concerned, very concerned. What once was an insignificant animal rights/animal welfare movement has grown into a full-fledged anti-agriculture sentiment. They don’t call it that, of course. Nobody in their right mind would admit to being anti-agriculture. But these water-bottle-toting activists are quick to take a stand against the evils of “factory farms,” or “corporate agriculture.” Now those are terms an activist can use to incite outrage among the uninformed.
Food, Inc. is a documentary film from Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Eric Schlossar, author of Fast Food Nation, and director Robert Kenner. Pollan is well-known as the author of numerous books and articles that have decried the physical and even moral hazard of America’s industrial food system.
Critics have called the film well-constructed, clever and even entertaining at times. Much of the film’s content is accurate but cast in a context that is misleading and damning of modern agriculture and the companies that turn raw commodities into the products that line the shelves in America’s grocery stores.
Reviews of Food, Inc., which was released to theaters June 19, have been overwhelmingly positive. Movie critics, who normally limit their comments to the acting of stars such as Tom Hanks or the abilities of a director such as Steven Spielberg, seemed to relish the opportunity to veer off into uncharted territory — attacking America’s food system and editorializing about its evil players.
For instance, Roger Ebert, who has written movie reviews for The Chicago Sun Times since 1967 and appeared on television with Gene Siskel in “Siskel and Ebert at the Movies” for 23 years, chose to use his review of Food, Inc. to “scare the bejesus out of you, which is what Food, Inc. did to me.”
Ebert’s commentary included this about chicken production: “They’re grown in cages too small for them to move, in perpetual darkness to make them sleep more and quarrel less. They’re fattened so fast they can’t stand up or walk. Their entire lives, they are trapped in the dark, worrying.”
Worrying? Ebert didn’t describe exactly how he knew those chickens were worried, but he didn’t limit his comments to poultry. “Cattle have been trained to eat corn instead of grass, their natural food,” he wrote.
Trained? Again, Ebert didn’t exactly describe this disgusting training program that cows are subjected to on those horrific factory farms. What he did, however, was use such anecdotes to scare his readers and encourage them to “do something about it.”
Now if you’re inclined to believe Ebert and the dozens of others who have reviewed Food, Inc. to have minimal influence over consumers, consider that in 2007 Forbes magazine named Ebert “the most powerful pundit in America,” edging out Bill O’Reilly of FOX News and Lou Dobbs of CNN.
Yes, Ebert and the others who have been incited by Food, Inc. will no doubt make an attempt to solve the problems they have convinced themselves exist in America’s food system. And there’s little doubt they’ll be seeking more government intervention into your business as a means to reform America’s food system.
If that offends you, there is plenty you can do about it. Start by visiting www.safefoodinc.com, a Web site sponsored by an alliance of associations that represents the livestock, meat and poultry industries. There you’ll find fact sheets about agriculture to help you combat the myths you may read in your local newspaper or hear on your local news broadcast. There’s also a list of third-party experts you can provide to news organizations and school districts that can help combat the misinformation about agriculture from sources such as Food, Inc.
Don’t be afraid to speak up for agriculture. The future of your livelihood may depend on it.