Director Erwin Wagenhofer
Writer Erwin Wagenhofer
Running time 96 minutes
Reviewed by Rebort
This unsettling documentary from Austria meticulously documents how the mechanisation of modern food production has created a monster. It reveals how the Western agro-industry's insatiable hunger for yield is creating poorer quality food, mind-boggling wastage, and impoverishing our natural environment and those who work in it.
Filmmaker Erwin Wagerhof gets impressive access to the farms, factories and processing plants, showing how technology has put people out of work and science has dislocated us from nature, as corporations swell their coffers.
An Austrian farmer says he gets less money for his grain then road grit, while enough bread to feed Austria's second biggest city Ganz is destroyed each day.
A director of Pioneer, a world leading seed-supplier, which specialises in genetically modified seed, guides us through rural Romania (one of Europe's largest agricultural economies), and talks with surprising candour about the future. Traditional farming, which he remembers with such fondness from his boyhood, faces a stiff battle against modern commercial techniques. The Romanian government has subsidised farmers who converted to GM crops and the evidence of this program's success can be found in the acres of Round-up ready crops (genetically engineered to resist Monsanto's Round-up insecticide) growing in Romanian fields.
The film visits the slash-and-burn soya plantations in former rainforests of Brazil, joins a fisherman from Brittany whose way of life is being made redundant by commercial deep sea trawlers, and goes to Spain to see where the tomatoes come from.
In the latter case, we are shown how mega greenhouse projects have centralised the production for tomatoes across a huge international marketplace. Few traditional farmers can compete, so they go out of business. The science is so exact now that each tomato plant is drip-fed with a special food formula and greenhouse keepers move along, tending the plants on a dolly type, rail track.
As Wagerhof shows, the fallout from these industrial efficiencies is that the workers are paid increasingly less and the tomatoes must often be trucked thousands of miles to get to market. Only similar industrial operations can afford to compete, which in turn creates pressure on workers' wages and conditions.
The film takes us to Somalia where, we are told, a Somali farmer could work 18 hours in the field and still not afford to sell his tomatoes cheaper than those from Spain.
The most unforgettable section follows the journey of a broiler from fresh-born egg to shrink-wrap chicken at a state-of-the-art bird processing plant, where 500,000 birds meet their death a day.
The film closes with a candid interview with Peter Brabeck, the suave CEO of Nestle, one of the biggest food suppliers in the world, who coolly suggests that NGOs are "extreme" for expecting access to clean water as a right and marvels at the mechanisation of the most modern workspaces.
Wagerhof is extremely thorough in the way he shows the process of the modern food production chain, and retains a cool distance that could be confused with objectivity. It reminded me in some respects of watching boyhood "educational" films that used to trumpet the wonders of the industrial world, although here there is a palpable sense of unease throughout. The biggest weakness of the film is that it does not offer something positive or hopeful as an alternative to this bleak dystopia.