Food Inc. Movie Review

Discuss Issues, Raised in the Film from the Perspective of Engineering Ethics, Professional Responsibility and Conflict of Interests.

A fascinating documentary Food Inc., directed by Robert Kenner reveals provocative and shocking facts concerning the unknown, dark side of the American food industry. Exploring the overall process of production and processing of food on its way to end consumer, it explains why and how one of the most vital spheres of human activity became controlled by a few acquisitive and powerful corporations, which set own profit above consumer health. It shows cruel treatment of animals in factory farms, flagrant violation of workers’ rights and irresponsible attitude to environment, typical for this highly mechanized and totally commercialized process. The unanimous opinion, derived from interviews with investigating authors Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan, oppressed and progressive farmers, food safety advocates and government representatives is that modern food industry, receiving huge profits, implements unethical, unsustainable and unsafe methods and technologies, consequently producing unhealthy food, which puts at risk human health and life. What is even more outrageous, while major corporations try to hide this fact from the general public, restricting access to their facilities and intimidating with litigation those who contradict their policies, governmental agencies seem to ignore claims, concerning apparent violations during all stages of the production cycle and, on the contrary, often pass laws in favour of big businesses.
One of the questions, which arise while watching the film, is why do we have such a dramatic state of things in this sphere today? Among the most evident explanations there is a lack of responsibility and conflict of interests of various professionals, who are involved in production, processing and control of quality of food. In this respect engineering profession is not an exception, since a great number of engineers participate in this process at all stages.

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Engineers help to design, construct and operate manufacturing facilities. They enable the implementation of the latest scientific achievements in this sphere, pursuing two purposes – to satisfy consumers’ needs in qualitative food and at the same time to meet clients’ business goals. Taking into account limitation of resources and rising demands for food, engineers have to make the process of production ultimately effective. The greatest problem is that very often, performing this task, they either do not exercise due diligence to predict possible negative consequences of their actions and decisions or, being encouraged by mercenary owners of corporations not to pay much attention to negative effects and concentrate on increasing productivity at any cost, intentionally ignore flaws of certain innovative technologies. In the long run this results in serious problems and initially beneficial technology brings more harm than good. For example in the film we can see that practice to feed cows with corn is considered cost-effective and let them grow faster, though at the same time this caused such serious problems as genesis of a new, dangerous strain of E coli. That’s why all conscious and diligent engineers have to acknowledge the necessity to comply their actions with engineering code of ethics and first of all with its most important principle, accepted as a primary one by the majority of engineering professional associations all over the world, which demands to “hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public” (\”NSPE Code of Ethics for Engineers\”). They have to realize that insignificant at first glance decisions can influence the further course of actions in a certain sphere and have a great, often irreversible impact on society and environment.
However, sometimes even if an engineer realizes to a full extent his great responsibility before the society, he encounters situations, when it is necessary to decide, what is more important in a given situation – the employer\’s or the public\’s welfare. It is determined by a specific nature of engineering profession, because, in fact, engineers have to be simultaneously loyal to both parties, which often have contradictory priorities, values and aims. Such situations may initiate conflicts of interests between the employer of the engineer and public (Jonassen et al. 235). On the one hand, temptation of a financial benefit and often restricting contractual obligations may seriously influence the objectivity of his professional judgements and actions in favour of the employer. Besides, a successful engineer, like any other manager of higher rank, can be intentionally promoted by the corporation to some regulatory agency or controlling organization with an implicit aim to secure interests of the corporation, what is, actually, a common practice, as we’ve seen in the film. In such cases, feeling himself somehow obliged, an engineer will be inclined to make biased decisions, even if he anticipates possible negative effects on the public’s wellbeing or realizes their unethical nature. On the other hand, his adherence to general societal needs can seriously affect his productivity and relationship with a client. Sometimes it’s hard for an engineer to avoid a conflict and make a right choice, nevertheless there is a number of adequate responses to such situations, like, for example, “disclosure of the facts” of one\’s potential bias in favour of one of the parties, “recusal or some degree of nonparticipation” in making decisions, concerning certain issue, “divestment of the threatening interests” or resignation (Luebke 112). In any way, one should always remember that global interests and needs of humanity should take priority over any other matter, and a responsible engineer should never suggest or support methods, which would put at risk people’s health and life or harm nature and environment, even if such actions hamper his career growth.
The film ends with an appeal to change own gastronomic preferences and to take an active participation in promotion of healthier and more ethical ways of food production. From the perspective of an engineering profession it could be interpreted as an impetus to review own professional principles and values and to enhance awareness of a tremendous responsibility, which lies on engineers, involved in this process. It can help acknowledge the fact, that since an engineer can directly influence the implemented methods and technologies, he should wisely use this leverage for the common good.

Works Cited
Jonassen, David H., Demei Shen, Rose M. Marra, Young-Hoan Cho,
Jenny L. Lo, and Vinod K. Lohani. \”Engaging and Supporting
Problem Solving in Engineering Ethics,\” Journal of Engineering
Education 98.3 (2009): 235. Questia, Web, 26 May 2011.
Luebke, Neil R. \”Conflict of Interest in Engineering.\” Conflict
of Interest in the Professions. By Michael Davis and Andrew
Stark. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001. Print.
\”NSPE Code of Ethics for Engineers.\” National Society of
Professional Engineers. Web. 26
May 2011. <http://www.nspe.org/Ethics/CodeofEthics/
index.html>.

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