Finally saw Food, Inc.

So I finally watched Food, Inc. (long overdue); I came in with a somewhat skeptical attitude and felt similarly afterward (perhaps that says more about me than about the film). It makes some good points – for example, Kevin’s Law should pass, and much of industrial livestock production looks gross. I don’t object at all to the muckraking style (in the fine tradition of Upton Sinclair). But I felt much of the movie was grafting broader populist themes like “corporations are bad” and “our political system is broken” onto the agriculture and food world, rather than making nuanced and well-argued points that are specific to the latter.

Monsanto might be crossing the line when they attack someone like Moe Parr with litigation (emphasis on "might" - Monsanto has its own side of the story). But the broader argument that “farmers have saved seed for thousands of years” is specious given the importance of intellectual property to spurring innovation. Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybeans could not have gone from 2% market share in 1996 to 96% market share in 2007 without offering really substantial benefits to farmers, benefits that could never in a million years have been developed through traditional seed selection and breeding. So while wrongful prosecution is not OK, enforcing the contract farmers who use Roundup Ready seed sign to not save their seed is fine with me.

My biggest disagreement with Michael Pollan et al is with how they disparage “efficiency” and are blasé about food prices (“good food costs more”). In the movie they even show a poor Hispanic family that wants to buy broccoli and pears, but they’re too expensive, so they get Big Macs instead. Michael Pollan’s response is “we need a system in which the bad food costs more than the good food.” I am all for ending ag subsidies (dare we hope the word is moving in that direction?), which are one weight that tilts the playing field. But moving to less efficient staple crop production methods will only increase prices and take up more land, resulting eventually in more deforestation and environmental degradation (particularly in the developing world), not to mention more malnourished people. And it won’t even bring broccoli within the purchasing power of the Gonzalez family. In fact, it’s easy to imagine a more extensive production system increasing the value of land and thus the price of all food crops, healthy or not.

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