What Food Inc. does not say
Posted by: Wanda Blair, Vice-President South Dakota Farm Bureau,Vale, SD
The first day of Spring, coming up on Saturday, is designated as National Ag Day - a time when Americans take note of the abundant, affordable, and amazing array of food, fiber and fuel provided by our nation's farmers and ranchers.
This comes sandwiched between the Academy Awards earlier this month and Earth Day, April 22.
What do either have to do with National Ag Day?
The controversial documentary Food, Inc., was nominated for - but did not receive - an Academy Award. The film is scheduled to run on PBS on Earth Day as an episode of the POV series.
The movie began making the rounds last summer, telling us that the food industry is lying to us about what we are eating because, if we knew the "truth," we wouldn't want to eat it.
The trouble is, the film's makers used lots of emotion but were a bit lax in their use of the facts. Using half-truths, errors, and omissions, the movie attempts to mislead viewers about our nation's food system. The film purports that "big is bad and small is good" and that foods shipped from any distance are to be shunned, while locally-grown foods provide all the right answers.
Several agricultural and food-related associations, including the American Farm Bureau, have conducted intensive fact-checking regarding claims made in the film and found it lacking in general fact and objectivity in numerous areas.
While the film primarily attacks large multinational agricultural and food corporations, the less-than-accurate information and assumptions upon which the film is based attempt to negatively affect the viewers' perceptions of the food system, including many modern farming practices. The film sides with advocates who would reduce consumer choice to promote their own food philosophies, and misses some key attributes of the U.S. food system:
- U.S. consumers are fortunate to have many safe and nutritious food choices that are the product of a dedicated system of farmers and ranchers, manufacturers and retailers, government and academia all working to produce a safe, nutritious, bountiful harvest that is the envy of most of the world.
- Our food is as safe or safer than any country of equal scale in the world. While the U.S. food safety system can always be improved, it is the model regarded as the gold standard by most nations of the world.
- The entire world, not just the U.S., relies on successful U.S. agricultural production. The U.S. will export an estimated $96 billion worth of food in 2009 to countries around the world who do not have the ability to grow it themselves
- Modern agricultural practices allow today's farmers and ranchers to produce food for a growing world population while at the same time protect our nation's natural resources.
If the steps in the film were adopted as policy choices, it would cause dramatic increases in food prices, especially meat and poultry, because of the increased costs of their inefficient production approaches. In addition, vast amounts of land would need to be used to raise livestock and poultry in free range systems, and the environment would suffer from open systems lacking environmental controls.
Over 96% of all farms in America are family farms. Family farms can be large, small, or somewhere in between. No matter the size of the farm, farmers know that a healthy environment and healthy animals make for healthy food for consumers.