Food, Inc.

Lauren Reid

As usual, I’m a little late to the documentary game, but last week I sat down and watched Food, Inc. on Netflix instant play.  While I considered myself pretty knowledgeable about the environmental impacts of the food industry, and about the ingredients and nutritional value of many of the food products available in the grocery store, several things in the movie were eye-opening.

One of the lectures in my EHS 500 class that I took as an undergrad to make sure public health was for me was on food safety, and I believe nutrition students are required to take a whole course on the subject.  The film focused on E. Coli and its presence in meat.  Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food notes that allowing cows to eat grass for 5 days instead of the subsidized “grains” they usually eat (to make them fat) decrease the amount of E. Coli in their gastrointestinal tract by 80%.

Combining this information with a bit of research from my introductory epidemiology course, that about 5-10% percent of cases of humans contracting E. Coli develop into a life threatening complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome.  The documentary focused on the mother of Kevin Kowalcyk, who died at age two due to complications of E. Coli infection, and her work towards the passage of a national bill in the House of Representatives that would further monitor E. Coli and other contaminants in food products.

Another case brought up in the documentary was the lives of individuals who own seed-cleaning machines.  These machines allow for the use of seeds produced by crops grown by farmers.  However, the seeds for many of the foods we eat now are owned by Monsanto, the company which produces the pesticide Round-Up.  Monsanto has developed round-up ready crops, which have been genetically engineered to survive the use of round-up to kill weeds without harming the crop.  Monsanto has sued the owners and users of these seed-cleaning machines for encouraging and being involved in practices which encourage the reuse of patented seeds such as the round-up ready seeds Monsanto owns and has patented.

The documentary made me temporarily reconsider my goal of environmental law as it pertains to water contamination in favor of law dealing with the food industry.  While I don’t think it has changed my career path, it has made me more aware of the complexities of the food industry, especially how they pertain to legal action.  While I know grass-fed beef is better for the cows, I had no idea it could directly prevent the exposure to E. Coli.  And while I knew the patenting of biological entities, such as seeds, was a common practice, I didn’t realize huge companies could go after individuals for even possibly “encouraging” the reuse of these seeds.

Food, Inc. definitely makes you think about what you’re putting into your shopping cart, and I recommend watching it.

3 thoughts on “Food, Inc.

  1. God help us I had no idea this seed was so harmful we are farmers and are under investagestation. for replanting seed. Help!!!!!!

  2. Just a quick note on E. coli – the bacterial species one of a great many that are normally present in the digestive system of just about every mammalian species (including humans), and without these bacteria we wouldn’t be able to extract certain nutrients from the food that we eat. The increase in E. coli is probably related to different digestive needs in cows following the switch from grass to grain.

    The E. coli that causes problems is one particular strain, O157:H7, which is not present in all cattle. Most E. coli contamination is a result of meat processing, not the food source – if the processing conditions are unsanitary, which they often are, then bacteria from the cow’s hide or intestine (things that we normally like to keep out of our meat) can end up in our food. In theory, correct processing of the meat (especially ground beef) would eliminate all cases of beef-associated E. coli – but oversight is usually lacking in this critical area.

    Most cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome occur in young patients that contract E. coli O157:H7, and this complication only happens in 2-7% of pediatric patients and is rare in adults. The majority of cases resolve without having any clinical symptoms. Infection with other strains of E. coli normally produces only mild diarrhea, and this enterotoxigenic E. coli is believed to be responsible for most cases of traveler’s diarrhea – avoiding this bacteria is why you’re encouraged to avoid drinking the water in foreign countries.

    Apart from the quibbling about E. coli, I thought that the post was very interesting, especially how Monsanto does not allow farmers to reuse seeds. Thanks for the post!

  3. Having being raised on a farm, and having eaten my peck of dirt through my lifetime, I realize how important it is get your food through animals who have also eaten of the dirt. Do you folks out there know that a foal has to eat its mother’s manure when it is first born, just so it can ingest the essential bacteria that it will need to make its own digestive system function? Did you know, that as a mother of all mammalian animals, the first milk that comes from the teat carries all the immunities of every disease the mother has ever encountered? Come on guys, give the human body a little credit for all it’s been through over the past several million years. Evolution has been a wonderful thing!!!

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