Cult of Green

The Monsanto Co. is leading Big Ag’s PR offensive against Food Inc., the searing documentary on industrial agriculture that opened monsanto vs food incFriday. That’s not surprising. The chemical giant comes off as the biggest bogeyman in the film, which focuses on the company’s genetic seed patents, alleged bullying of farmers and efforts to influence politicians.

What is surprising is that Monsanto is tying its response to the movie to a discredited front group called the Center for Consumer Freedom. It seems too obviously payback for at least $200,000 that Monsanto has contributed to the supposedly nonprofit organization.

The company’s PR offensive against Food Inc. is no ham-handed reaction. It includes a very slick (of course) web page featuring an interactive seven-question quiz and the following characterization of the movie:

Food, Inc. is a one-sided, biased film that the creators claim will “lift the veil on our nation’s food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that’s been hidden from the American consumer.” Unfortunately, Food, Inc. is counter-productive to the serious dialogue surrounding the critical topic of our nation’s food supply.

A couple of points may undermine Monsanto’s message, however. A core theme on the company’s site is that Food Inc. “demonizes American farmers.” But the movie actually positions itself as siding with family farms against agribusiness and accuses the ag industry of doing precisely what Monsanto is doing in response to the movie: conflating its interests with those of small farmers.

Maybe this is smart on Monsanto’s part. Both sides in the Great Food Debate brandish the “family farmer” as a talisman against the claim that they’re elitists. But Monsanto inherently will have a more difficult time maintaining that it’s the friend of farmers — especially, family farmers — at the same time it’s aggressively going after farmers in lawsuits.

And that standing-up-for-the-little-ol’-farmer line gets a bit harder to take when you consider that Monsanto is directing readers from its own website to the Center for Consumer Freedom. The center is one of a dozen or so front groups created by Washington lobbyist Rick Berman to push the interests of some of America’s least popular industries.

You may have read about Berman earlier this year, when his son, former Silver Jews front man David Berman, quit his band on the same day that he wrote a statement calling his father “a despicable man” and “sort of human molester” for the “evil” work he does.

He props up fast food/soda/factory farming/childhood obesity and diabetes/drunk driving/secondhand smoke.

He attacks animal lovers, ecologists, civil action attorneys, scientists, dieticians, doctors, teachers.

His clients include everyone from the makers of Agent Orange to the Tanning Salon Owners of America.

Among other causes, Rick Berman has fought against  minimum wage increases, tougher drunk-driving laws and tobacco regulations. He’s claimed the nation’s rising obesity rate is a “myth” created by “food police” and that there’s a “lack of evidence that second-hand smoke causes cancer.”  More…

  1. The movie Food Inc. is more than just an analysis of the failures of the United States’ industrial food system, but suggestions of healthier and more sustainable methods to putting dinner on the table. What struck me most about the movie was the scene in which a low income family discussed the difficulty of buying fresh fruits and vegetables. The mother initial angered me with what seemed like a blatant disregard for the health and nutrition of her family, one of whom was suffering from diabetes. As the scene rolled on, I saw that their neighborhood was not necessarily a safe or affluent place. In fact, it reminded me a lot about the neighborhood I grew up in.
    As a child, I encountered a sharp economic divide between my classmates at school. The lucky half toted cartoon covered lunch boxes filled with organic rice cakes, cheese sticks, pre cut apples, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while the others ate whatever the school plopped on their free lunch plates. I remember peering inside the cafeteria kitchen one day and observing an empty stove next to a ridiculously large microwave oven, filled with that day’s offering: rubbery grilled cheese sandwiches on nutritionally deficient white bread. This would be accompanied by a carton of almost stale and always stale tasting orange juice, milk, fries, and a sugar laden fruit cup.
    Though I am grateful for the food stamps which supplemented my mother’s three jobs and the free meals which kept my siblings and I from starving, there are great discrepancies within the government’s food policy. As stated in the movie, food policy is run not by consumers, but those who produce it: industrial food titans such as Tyson, General Mills, and Sysco. In spite of their advertisements, there is no escaping the fact that these companies prioritize profit over the nutritional needs of their customers.
    Food Inc. suggested some valuable ideas for the direction our food production system should be going in, such as replacing concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) with grass fed beef and chickens that get to see the light of day and observing food seasons instead of importing green tomatoes from other countries and ripening them with noxious gases.
    It is utterly disgusting and shameful how one of the richest countries in the world fails to properly address the health and nutrition of its most vulnerable and arguably most important population: children. Though younger generations will inherit the world, it is older ones who are readily capable of changing it. By reforming repressive laws which punish farmers and expose the public to a colorful medley of diabetes inducing products, we will ensure a healthier, happier present and future.

  2. I find it interesting how Monsanto claims that Food, Inc. is “counterproductive to the serious dialogue surrounding the critical topic of our nation’s food supply,” which seems to imply that our nation does not have enough food. (The statement also seems to imply that Monsanto is willing to have a “dialogue” about the issue of food…)

    However, thanks to genetically-modified super crops like the ones Monsanto patented, we have enough food to feed our nation and to drive “family farmers” around the world out of business. I wish Food, Inc. would have gone into more detail about the disastrous effects industrial agriculture has around the globe.

  3. I find it very interesting that Monsanto chose to express their response to Food Inc through the CCF, and to accuse the film to be a “one-sided, biased film”, while the CCF has such a rich history of representing only the interests of large corporations, expressing a very limited, biased point of view themselves, one based upon the interests of those standing to lose money if policies advocated by Food Inc were to become a reality. The CCF, when one looks at some recent funding information, collects a huge amount of their funds from the corporations examined in Food Inc, such as Monsanto, Tyson, Cargill, and many other of the corporations controlling a vast amount of US meat and food production. Food policies in America have favored the large corporations and money holders for far too long, and Food Inc exposed just how enmeshed Washington politics are with private interests. I am not surprised in the least that Monsanto would respond in a defensive matter, but by voicing their position through the CCF the company has shown that their interests lie not with the small farmers of America, but the large corporations that control the American food supply.

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