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Food Inc Essay

The movie makes some really good points. The best point is that subsidized corn artificially lowers the cost of animal feed and high-fructose corn syrup. This creates a tax-subsidized economic incentive for people to choose fast food over nutritious options. Scrapping farm subsidies including corn would be a great idea (that the movie doesn’t propose). It has a good segment about how Monsanto is using intellectual property law to unfairly create a US soybean monopoly, suing farmers who never bought Monsanto seed and forcing them to capitulate because of the sheer weight of legal bills.

But the movie descends into sensationalism. For example, it takes a sad case of a kid named Kevin who died of E Coli poisoning after eating a hamburger. It traces the industry’s response — which is to use ammonia to make sure that almost no E Coli survives — and criticizes its solution while playing ominous music in the background along with unanswered cries of anguish from Kevin’s mother. It fails to mention that (1) all E Coli dies when meat is cooked properly (2) using ammonia to kill E Coli is an ingenious idea that’s very effective (3) the food with the greatest risk of E Coli poisoning is organic spinach.

It doesn’t mention how the fast food industry eliminated the use of hydrogenated vegetable oil, almost completely eliminating trans fat from fast food. It has a scene comparing the resources used by a free range cow farmer who has about 20 cows versus an industrial slaughterhouse that processes thousands — failing to mention that if the free range farmer produced cows on the same scale he would use 4x to 10x the resources for the same output. The movie takes an ill-advised stance against genetically modified food (google Norman Borlaugh).

It makes several self-defeating arguments (like arguing that our industrially-produced food is infected and resource-intensive and that we should pay more to eat organic — which is actually much more resource intensive and more likely to be contaminated by bacteria because of the use of poop as fertilizer instead of nitrates). The movie makes some interesting points. But the whole “big business bad” thing is a completely useless attitude that is a constant source of irritation to me personally.

People and businesses have, do, will, and should act in their own best interests. The question is which policies should be created to incentivize wise outcomes? Regarding Monsanto, the problem isn’t evil big business, it’s that the US should reform its legal system to act like the UK’s where if you sue someone and lose then you have to pay their legal fees. That would prevent Monsanto’s abuses of IP law (and would accomplish tort reform in medical malpractice).

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