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Behind the movie Food Inc.

The audience raptly watched film clips in silent skepticism.

“That comes off a lot harder sitting here,” quipped filmmaker Robert Kenner.

The scene was earlier this year at the 2011 Bayer CropScience Ag Issues Forum at the Commodity Classic in Tampa, Florida.

Kenner produced the movie Food Inc., that cast a critical eye on the agricultural industry. Agree or disagree with him, here’s some of what Kenner had to say to the agricultural media about the movie and reaction to it.

  • Kenner’s interest in food production was piqued by Fast Food Nation, a book critical of the fast food industry written by journalist Eric Schlosser, Kenner decided to broaden the subject to where food originates. “I didn’t start out with a preconceived notion of what it was I was creating,” says Kenner. “I’m not like Michael Moore. I’m a film maker, not a food activist.” (Moore has made movies like Sicko that criticized the American health care system.”
  • Kenner wondered how the world could sustainably produce food for a rapidly growing population. “There is an incredible interest in the subject of food,” he says. “Food Inc. came out when the food movement was exploding. It’s made up of moms who want to feed their kids, and they are very concerned about what they are feeding their children. This cuts across all ideological boundaries.”
  • Kenner says he did try to include agricultural companies and farmers in the film. He says many industry officials and farmers visited with him, but declined to go on camera. “We met nice people, had interesting conversations, but ultimately, they said it was not in their best interest for us to film their operations or have anyone from the company talk to us.
  • It left me with an impression that industry ultimately wasn’t anxious to share how food was made with consumers who eat that food.”
  • That’s changed. “I have to say there has really been a sea change since I made the film,” he says. “I’ve since met many people in your industry and had many interesting conversations. It’s spurred a real openness to engage in conversation.”
  • What was his most disconcerting moment making the movie?
  • “I was at a hearing on labeling cloned meat,” says Kenner. “An (agricultural) industry representative responded to a question, ‘I don’t think that’s in the best interest of the consumer to give them that information.’ I think that was terrifying. Ultimately, what we are talking about is being denied information about what is in our food. It’s contrary to a free society, that if someone has a good product, they should advertise a good product.”
  • Kenner was surprised by the film’s success. “It was released in June 2008 and became a successful documentary,” he says. “Then, it went from being a successful documentary to the number one selling DVD on for the rest of the year, ahead of many Hollywood movies. In my mind, that’s not supposed to happen.”
  • So what does Kenner eat? “I was never a perfect eater,” he says. “After the film, I certainly am trying to read (food nutrition) labels. My wife encourages me to do that, and I try to shop at farmer’s markets.”
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