Food, Inc. is a 2009 American documentary film directed by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Robert Kenner. The film examines corporate farming in the United States, concluding that the meat and vegetables produced by agribusiness have many hidden costs and are unhealthy and environmentally-harmful. The film is narrated by Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser. The documentary generated extensive controversy in that it was heavily criticized by large American corporations engaged in industrial food production.
The film's first segment examines the industrial production of meat (chicken, beef, and pork), calling it inhumane and economically and environmentally unsustainable. The second segment looks at the industrial production of grains and vegetables (primarily corn and soy beans), again labeling this economically and environmentally unsustainable. The film's third and final segment is about the economic and legal power of the major food companies, such as food libel laws, whose livelihoods are based on supplying cheap but contaminated food, the heavy use of petroleum-based chemicals (largely pesticides and fertilizers), and the promotion of unhealthy food consumption habits by the American public.
The film has generated controversy for its views. The producers invited on-screen rebuttals from Monsanto Company, Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods, Perdue Farms, and other companies, but all declined the invitation. Monsanto says it invited the filmmakers to a producers' trade show, but they claimed that they were denied press credentials at the event, and were not permitted to attend. An alliance of food production companies (led by the American Meat Institute) created a Web site, SafeFoodInc.org, in response to the claims made in the film.Monsanto also established its own Web site to specifically respond to the film's claims about that company's products and actions. Cargill told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the company welcomed "differing viewpoints on how global agriculture can affordably nourish the world while minimizing environmental impact, ensuring food safety, guaranteeing food accessibility and providing meaningful work in agricultural communities." But the company criticized the film's "'one-size-fits-all' answers to a task as complex as nourishing 6 billion people who are so disparately situated across the world."
Fast-food chain Chipotle responded to the documentary in July 2009 by offering free screenings of it at various locations nationwide and stating that it does things differently, which it hopes customers will appreciate after seeing Food, Inc.
The film's director, Robert Kenner, has denied attacking the current system of producing food, noting in one interview: "All we want is transparency and a good conversation about these things." In the same interview, he went on to say, "...the whole system is made possible by government subsidies to a few huge crops like corn. It's a form of socialism that's making us sick."
The film has been highly rated by critics collectively, with a combined rating of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, and 80/100 on Metacritic. The Staten Island Advance called the documentary "excellent" and "sobering," concluding, "Documentaries work when they illuminate, when they alter how we think, which renders Food, Inc. a solid success, and a must-see." The Toronto Sun called it "terrifying" and "frankly riveting". The San Francisco Examiner was equally positive, calling the film "visually stylish" and "One of the year’s most important films..." The paper called the picture's approach to its controversial subject matter "a dispassionate appeal to common sense" and applauded its "painstaking research and thoughtful, evenhanded commentary..." The Los Angeles Times, too, praised Food, Inc.'s cinematography, and called the film "eloquent" and "essential viewing". The Montreal Gazette noted that despite the film's focus on American food manufacture, the film is worth viewing by anyone living in a country where large-scale food production occurs. The paper's reviewer declared Food, Inc. "must-see", but also cautioned that some of the scenes are " not for the faint of heart." The St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted that other documentaries and books have examined similar issues before. However, the film was still worth seeing: "The food-conglomerate angle was covered in a less-ambitious documentary called King Corn, and a more-ambitious documentary called The Corporation touched on the menace of the multinationals; but this one hits the sweet spot, and it does it with style." The review concluded that the most powerful portion of the film focused on Monsanto's pursuit of legal action against farmers who improperly save and resell or replant Monsanto’s patented seed, in violation of a signed stewardship agreement and contract not to save and resell or replant seeds produced from the crops they grow from Monsanto seed.
The San Francisco Chronicle, while noting the film has a "flair for the dramatic," concluded: "...it throws out one zinger after another, making its case with the methodical and unremitting force of muckrakers trying to radicalize—or at least rouse—a dozing populace." Other reviews have not been as positive. A commentator at Forbes magazine found the film compelling but incomplete. The picture, the reviewer found, "fails to address how we might feed the country—or world" on the sustainable agriculture model advocated by the filmmakers, and that it failed to address critical issues of cost and access. The Washington Times said the movie was "hamstrung" because few corporate executives wished to be interviewed by the documentarians, although it agreed that the film was trying to aim for balance.