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Originally published June 18, 2009 at 2:33 PM | Page modified June 18, 2009 at 3:13 PM

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Movie review

'Food, Inc.': A film that may take away your appetite

Robert Kenner's film documentary informs viewers of alarming flaws in our food-safety system, and offers suggestions on how to remedy them. Authors Eric Schlosser ("Fast Food Nation") and Michael Pollan ("The Omnivore's Dilemma") contributed to the film, reviewed by Michael Upchurch.

Seattle Times arts writer

Movie review 3.5 stars

"Food, Inc." a documentary with Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan. Directed by Robert Kenner. 93 minutes. Rated PG for some thematic material and disturbing images. Egyptian.

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Early on in this documentary about the industrialization of food-production comes a statement with more implications than at first are apparent: "The industry doesn't want you to know the truth about where your food comes from — because if you knew, you might not want to eat it."

In other words, "Food, Inc." isn't just about food. It's about suppressed information.

Producer-director Robert Kenner, with input from authors Eric Schlosser ("Fast Food Nation") and Michael Pollan ("The Omnivore's Dilemma"), tries to lift the veil. The result is an alarming film that tackles food and freedom-of-speech issues on many fronts.

It highlights legal restrictions imposed in the 1990s on public discussion of food safety (the so-called "veggie libel laws"). It examines the ramifications of patenting genetically engineered seeds (including patentees' use of lawsuits to pressure independent farmers into jumping aboard the corporate bandwagon).

It exposes conflicts of interest between big-time U.S. producers of food and those who are supposed to regulate them (too often the same people, the filmmakers contend).

The changes to our agricultural system, Kenner points out, have been widespread and rapid. Among statistics he cites: While the top five beef packers controlled 25 percent of the market in the 1970s, now the top four control 80 percent; and where the Food and Drug Administration made 50,000 food-safety inspections in 1972, it made only 9,164 in 2006.

Factory farms and changes in animals' feeding regimes, it seems clear, have contributed to rising cases of E. coli and salmonella.

No food companies present their point of view. But that's not the filmmaker's fault. None would talk to Kenner — although soybean producer Monsanto has posted its take on one case he investigates, on its Web site.

In most of these David-and-Goliath stories, Goliath is pummeling David big time. Kenner illuminates a few bright spots and makes some useful suggestions. But the film's revelations remain mighty sobering.

Michael Upchurch:

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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