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The Skinny on Oscar-Nominated Documentaries 'Food Inc.' and 'The Cove'

Michael Pollan and friends reveal the food industry's darkest secrets in 'Food Inc.' and Japan's ongoing dolphin slaughter is exposed in 'The Cove.'

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TL: One of the startling things in the film was the industry connections that so many of the people had who were in positions of power at the FDA and the USDA.

RK: One thing we say in the film is that we are not opposed to people going from industry to government, that is OK. The problem is when they go from industry to government, rule on things they are involved in in industry and then go back to industry with great bonuses. That seems a conflict of interest.

And it wasn't only in the Bush era. In a funny way this crosses boundaries between Democrats and Republicans. On some of the levels, Monsanto has gotten a free ride because people think they are going to save the world with GMOs and their seeds. It has cut across party lines. It feels like tobacco research. Unfortunately, the ag schools have been taken over by industry, and they are now publishing reports.

I think the parallels to tobacco are really true. Eric [Schlosser] has a line that sums it up: that they are huge, powerful, rich corporations thoroughly connected to government issuing misleading statements about their products, saying they are not unhealthy -- ultimately, there are real parallels, and I think as we start to see how unsafe this food is, like tobacco, we are going to change it.

TL: Are you seeing any changes in the first few months of the Obama administration?

RK: Well, I think this wasn't a high priority because, obviously, there are huge crisis situations that have to be solved, but I don't think you can solve health care without changing the food system, when 1 out of 3 Americans born after the year 2000 is going to get early-onset diabetes; it is going to bankrupt the health care system. And I think there is a direct connection between food and health.

I don't think you can deal with the environment without dealing with the food system when 20-25 percent of your carbon footprint involves growing and transporting food.

I think these issues are coming to the surface and are becoming more important, there has just been some movement on food safety where the FDA will have the power to recall food (which they do not have now), such as Nestle's cookie dough, which has E. coli in it.

TL: So, right now, the FDA doesn't have the power to recall food?

RK: The hamburger that killed Barb's son prompted her to help create Kevin's Law to get the USDA, which is in charge of meat, to be able to recall food. It's a complex situation -- the USDA oversees meat, but if it's a cheeseburger, then it's the FDA, because it's dairy. But neither of them have the power to recall food. The hamburger that killed Barb's son sat on the shelves for 12 days after he died when they knew where it came from, but the government couldn't recall it -- it was up to the corporation. Hopefully that one will start to be changed.

But we are subsidizing food that is making us sick in an even bigger way than E. coli, and that's obesity and diabetes. And I think that we have to figure out a way to turn the farm bill into the food bill.

TL: What does that mean?

RK: To start representing eaters' interests, not agribusiness. Unfortunately, that bill doesn't come up again until 2012. When we screened the film for [USDA head Tom] Vilsack, he said "we need a movement to follow. If there is a movement, we can help follow, but we can't change farm subsidies without people demanding it." Because he's up against agribusiness, and they're very powerful.

 
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