September 9, 2008 / 7:11 PM / in 10 years

"Food, Inc." filmmaker lets them eat burgers

TORONTO (Reuters) - Documentary filmmaker Robert Kenner still eats hamburger, despite what he learned as he made “Food, Inc.,” a frank and sometimes gruesome expose of the profit-driven food business in the United States.

A cow looks out from a barn in Winchendon, Massachusetts in this June 30, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/Files

But he prefers it ground to order from a single piece of meat, rather than buying shrink-wrapped supermarket ground meat that comes “from a hundred cows.”

“Food, Inc.,” which opened at the Toronto Film Festival this week, looks at agribusiness through the eyes of farmers, consumers and legislators, contrasting the corporate image of red barns and white picket fences with the reality of factory farms and humongous processing plants.

The companies themselves — companies like Monsanto, Smithfield Foods Inc and Tyson Foods Inc — declined to be interviewed.

“That was the real shocker. They didn’t want to talk, they did not want us to see where the food comes from, and they wanted total control,” Kenner told Reuters in an interview about the movie.

The 96-minute documentary looks at poultry sheds and meat packing plants, including secretly filmed footage of immigrant workers tossing chickens into crates. There are graphic shots of cattle feedlots and animals heading for slaughter.

Other topics include congressional hearings about food safety, the corn subsidies that allowed the agribusiness to get so big in the first place and the way retail giant Wal-Mart Stores is putting organic produce on its shelves.

In a twist of language, farmers producing chicken are known as growers, while the experts seeking higher yields of corn are the breeders.

“It’s a pretty easy decision to try to support things like organics or whatever it might be based on what the consumer wants,” Wal-Mart chief dairy purchaser Tony Airosa says. “If it’s clear that the customer wants it, it’s really easy to get behind it and to push forward and try to make that happen.”

The movie, which has yet to find a distributor, follows on from the 2004 documentary “Super Size Me,” where Morgan Spurlock eats himself away from health on a month-long diet of McDonald’s Corp hamburgers and other food.

Kenner said he hoped his movie would help consumers to make better choices, perhaps opting for locally grown produce over imports, and unprocessed rather than processed foods.

But he insists he’s not obsessive about what he eats, and happily ordered the hot and sour soup at a Toronto restaurant, without so much as asking where the ingredients were from.

“We’re at a fancy restaurant and I would hope that some of it is organic. At least at these prices it should be,” he said.

“It’s really the industrial food that concerns me on a number of levels. It’s being made solely for profit and not for the health of people eating.”

Reporting by Janet Guttsman; Editing by Frank McGurty

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