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Food Inc. Case Study Essay

1. How has technology been applied to the food production process? Give/describe at least 3 examples. In the last 50 years, technology has completely changed the way we eat. When we think about farming, we think red barns, green grass, free-roaming animals, etc. Farming, now-a-days, is far different than the image the industry has lead us to believe. Farming has become a highly industrialized and mechanized business. The reality is our food is no longer coming from farms; it’s coming off assembly lines in factories, just like automobiles. Due to the high demand for certain types of foods, technology has allowed us to change the way we grow our food. Through genetic engineering, scientists have been able to introduce genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) into the food system to help with the shortage of food. Take for instance, the chicken. In 1950, it took farmers 70 days to raise a chicken. Now, it takes half the time, only 48 days. Not only can farmers grow chickens faster, they can grow them to be bigger.

To meet the needs of consumers’ preferences for white meat, scientists made specific changes to the chickens’ DNA that made it possible to redesign the chicken to have larger breasts (Wikipedia.org). Another area where technology was applied to our food production process was through crops. In the 1930’s scientists developed a hybrid seed for corn, this hybrid had stronger stalks that resisted being blown over and it allowed farmers to plant the crop closer together (Food, Inc. Discussion Guide). Resulting in higher yields, “100 years ago a farmer in America could grow maybe 20 bushels of corn on an acre. Today, 200 bushels is no problem” (Food, Inc.). With the surplus of corn, scientists were able to develop more uses for it. A couple of examples include corn-based ethanol fuel, high-fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, etc. Even though the technological advances mentioned above are astounding, one can’t help but wonder how these changes are affecting society.

2. How has business influenced government in the agricultural / food industry? Give at least 3 examples from the documentary. Monsanto has influenced government in many ways when it comes to the agricultural / food industry. Michael Pallon, an American author / journalist / activist, states “There has been this revolving door between Monsanto’s corporate offices and the various regulatory and judicial bodies that have made the key decisions.” (Food, Inc.). For example, Justice Clarence Thomas (1991 – Present) was an attorney for Monsanto from 1976 – 1979 and wrote the majority of the opinion that refused farmers from cleaning and saving their own seed (Food, Inc.) Monsanto also had very close ties to the Bush and Clinton Administration.

These ties eliminated the political debates over the extreme change in our food system. “For the last 25 years, our government has been dominated by the industries that it was meant to be regulating” (Food, Inc.). Take for example, Michael Taylor King, a Spaulding lawyer from 1994 – 1991. He advised his client, Monsanto, on GMF labeling. Then in 1991, he became the Deputy Commissioner for Policy and oversaw the FDA’s decision not to label GMF’s. As stated in the film, there is too much centralized power. Farmers are going into more and more debt with each year passing and what’s truly sad about the whole situation is they have no control over the businesses they worked tooth and nail for.

3. What is the FDA’s most current policy on genetically engineered foods? If you use a quote, then use two paragraphs or more to support the quote. According to Noelle Cremers with the California Farm Bureau the FDA’s most current policy regarding genetically engineered foods is as follows, “And if I can point out the reason that we are concerned with labeling is it creates unnecessary fear in a consumer’s mind. Until the industry has an opportunity to educate why we want to use this technology and the value of the technology, we don’t feel that consumers just having a warning label will help them” (Food, Inc.). The problem with this is it violates consumer’s rights. As stated in the “consumer’s Magna Carta” that was spelled out by President John F. Kennedy, consumers have four basic rights, the right to be informed, the right to safety, the right to choose, and the right to be heard (Carroll and Buchholtz 392).

The FDA is violating at least three of consumer’s rights by not labeling for GMO’s. Starting with the right to be informed, which “refers to the consumer’s right to know about a product, its use, and the cautions to be exercised while using it” (Carroll and Buchholtz 392). Without labeling, consumers have no clue what they are consuming, they are not informed. Next, the FDA is violating consumer’s right to safety which refers to concerns of a product being dangerous (Carroll and Buchholtz 392). Even though GMO’s were discovered in the 1970’s, approximately 40 years ago, there is little to no research proving these products are safe for us to consume. Are they trying to cover up the fact that they are dangerous? Lastly, they are not allowing consumers the right to choose. Without full disclosure of GMO’s, how can one make an accurate choice? As far as the right to be heard, the FDA is hearing consumer’s desires and grievances towards the labeling of GMO’s, they’re just not listening.

4. What evidence do you see in the documentary that business is taking a more proactive, socially responsible stance to food production? To prove it is possible for businesses to have a proactive, socially responsible stance in the way food is produced, the documentary focused on two companies, Polyface Farms and Stonyfield Farms. Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms, is hitting the nail on the head when it comes to being a socially responsible business owner. He’s upholding his economic responsibility to be profitable. He may not be striving to have his food sold at Wal-Mart, but he is charging customer’s fair prices for the quality of food he is providing. Polyface Farms is being legally responsible by obeying all laws.

Although, the United States Department of Agricultural did try shutting them down because their operations are open to the air and it is considered to be unsanitary. However, he had his workplace cultured at a local microbiology lab and the results averaged 133 colony forming units, where the cultures from stores averaged 3600 colony forming units. In microbiology, colony-forming unit (CFU) is an estimate of viable bacterial or fungal numbers. Unlike direct microscopic counts where all cells, dead and living, are counted, CFU estimates viable cells (Wikipedia.org). Lastly, Polyface farms is withholding there ethical standards high. Some could argue that killing animals for food is wrong, but that is a completely different subject.

The company is showing respect to the planet, their workers, the animals, and their consumers. In the documentary Joel Salatin states, “I mean, a culture that just views a pig as a pile of protoplasmic inanimate structure to be manipulated by whatever creative design that humans can foist on that critter will probably view individuals within its community and other cultures in the community of nations with the same type of disdain, disrespect and controlling-type mentality.” (Food, Inc.).

That statement alone proves he is ethically responsible. The documentary also focused on Stonyfield Farms as a socially responsible company. Gary Hirschberg, the COO of Stonyfield Farms states, “When we started out, we were a seven-cow farm. We wanted to prove that business could be part of the solution to the globe’s environmental problems. At the same time we had to prove that we could be highly profitable” (Food, Inc.). Stonyfield is the third largest yogurt brand in America, and they are the most profitable, e.g. they’re being economically responsible. The company is proving to be ethically responsible by providing organic yogurt, quality products, to the consumers at a responsible price, and you can tell in the documentary that their animals are being treated with respect.

The cows were roaming free and were very clean, the farm had red barns that were kept nicely, and the grass was green. More and more companies today, are sprinting into the organic business. They are starting to realize that consumers are waking up and seeing behind the veil the food industry has put up. Consumers want to be healthy, be respected as both consumers and worker, and they want to preserve our environment for future generations.

Works Citied
Carroll, Archie B., and Buchholtz, Ann K. Business and Society: Ethics, Sustainability,
and Stakeholder Management. 8th ed. Mason, OH: Cengage, 2012. “Colony-forming Unit.” Wikipedia.org. 4 February 2014. 18 March 2014
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colony-forming_unit>
Food, Inc. Dir. Robert Kenner. Perf. Robert Kenner; Richard Pearce; Eric Schlosser; Melissa Robledo; William Pohlad; Jeff Skoll; Robin Schorr; Diane Weyermann; Elise Pearlstein; Kim Roberts; Michael Pollan; Gary Hirshberg; Joel Salatin; Mark Adler.

Los Angeles, CA : Magnolia Home Entertainment, 2009. DVD.
“Food, Inc. Discussion Guide.” Takepart.com. 15 March 2014

“Genetically Modified Food.” Wikipedia.org. 17 March 2014. 18 March 2014
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_food >

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