What Netflix's Okja Gets Right About Big Food
By Samantha Henry
Netflix's recent, original feature film Okja has triggered a bit of disruption amongst both those in the film industry and enthusiasts in the food movement.
The movie targets several issues concerning the current state of our food system, and could be a great watch for those curious about where our food system could soon be headed.
Okja follows the fictional Mirando Corporation, a chemical weapons company looking to rebrand itself with the presentation of an exciting new discovery: the miraculous "superpig." Mirando presents the animal as an ideal way to efficiently end world hunger.
Along with their announcement is a competition. They have bred 10 superpigs, which will be raised by 10 smallholder farmers around the world to see who can raise the best animal. With her grandfather, a young Korean girl named Mija raises the superpig Okja, only to find herself in a fight against Mirando to save her best friend.
Mija's and Okja's journeys from Korea to New York serve to reveal the dangerous intentions of Mirando Corporation, the truth behind the origins of the superpigs and a conceptual look into what truly goes on in industrial animal facilities. While Okja's characters are fictional, the underlying story that is told is not far from reality. (In fact, Mirando Corporation sounds an awful lot like many big agribusiness corporations we know.)
Here are several aspects of the film that hold true:
1. Mirando Corporation's lack of transparency
Mirando Corporation executives go to extreme measures to cover up their corrupt practices. They also mislead the public, claiming that a superpig was discovered in the wild and then bred naturally to produce only the 10 animals for the competition. In reality, we soon learn they genetically engineered the animals, created thousands, and confined them in a secret facility. Once the competition generated fanfare and interest, they could flood the market with superpig meat products.
This secrecy and corporate greed certainly takes place within the current industrial animal model, benefitting producers at the expense of animal health and consumers. The realities of the animals' conditions inside animal factory systems are kept hidden from the public. Animal factory owners have lobbied governments to pass Ag-Gag laws, which threaten anyone who reveals the cruel treatment of food animals with severe fines or jail time. These laws restrict human and animal rights and impede the recording and reporting that has played a critical role in bringing awareness to the mistreatment of animals in factory farms. A new poll conducted by Mercy for Animals demonstrates that Americans care about holding farms accountable for their conditions and practices. Perhaps, consumers would make different decisions about their meat consumption if they were aware of the practices that are common in animal factories.
2. The move toward genetically engineered food animals
In Okja, it is revealed that Mirando created the superpigs through genetic engineering. GE food animals are not science fiction. Recently, AquaBounty salmon became the first genetically engineered food animal approved for human consumption by the FDA. Mirando's executives insist that consumers do not care what they are eating as long as it is inexpensive, but public outrage towards GE salmon suggests otherwise. Before the salmon was approved, 300,000 concerned citizens signed a petition to Costco to reject the sale of GE salmon. In 2013, more than 1.8 million comments were submitted telling the FDA not to approve GE salmon.
Nevertheless, there is continued interest by industry to genetically modify other food animals. For example, there are efforts to engineer pigs to excrete less phosphorus in their waste, reducing the nutrient pollution associated with hog factories, rather than address the unsustainable levels of production that generate billions of gallons of manure every year. Such genetic alterations will continue to promote unsustainable confinement conditions that put food safety, human health, animal welfare and the environment in jeopardy.
3. The horrors of intensive industrial animal production
In her quest to save Okja, Mija witnesses the horrific conditions and torture the superpigs experience from creation to slaughter at the hand of Mirando. Animals in CAFOs live similarly inhumane lives, confined to overcrowded, filthy feedlots or pens and subject to severe abuse. Often, they have limited space to move around and cannot avoid their own waste or the carcasses of other animals. Studies have found that overcrowding can result in increased aggression, injuries and stress reactions in pregnant pigs. It also promotes the spread of virulent diseases, such as increased risk of respiratory disease in cows due to airborne dust particles, humidity and poor ventilation. Breeding animals for industrial conditions has severe health consequences, such as increased leg weakness and tail-biting in pigs selected for rapid growth.
While not featured specifically in the film, animal factory operators rely heavily on a variety of animal drugs to force animals to gain weight faster and keep diseases at bay in such disgusting conditions. Several of these drugs have not been sufficiently proven to be safe for use, and recent science suggests they may have serious impacts on human health, animal welfare, or the environment. CFS has achieved some recent victories, primarily in encouraging the phaseout of certain medically important antibiotics given the public health crisis of antibiotic-resistant bacteria causing infections in humans. Yet, there still remain larger regulatory gaps regarding antibiotics, and rampant use of non-antibiotic drugs that prop up unsanitary and unhealthy conditions in CAFOs.
What can you do?
For now, Okja is science fiction. But it's not an unreasonable stretch of the imagination. In the U.S. today, we overconsume animal proteins. This incentivizes the expansion of CAFO style production and the development of GE animals. Many people in the U.S. are recognizing the power of their dietary choices in shaping the future of our food system. In January 2016, the scientific advisory board that develops the Dietary Guidelines for Americans received backlash from industry on their decision to promote reduced consumption of animal-based foods in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, and encourage eating plant-based foods. The new guidelines generated an unprecedented 29,000 public comments, 75 percent of which "favored including the recommendations around less meat and supported the message of environmental health and sustainability benefits of reducing meat consumption."
To reduce the major consequences on human health, animal welfare and the environment associated with CAFOs and industrial animal production, we should all make more mindful choices and incorporate more plant-based foods. When meat does make it on the menu, look for organic, reliable certified humane, and 100 percent grassfed labels.
Many people shop online for everything from clothes to appliances. If they do not like the product, they simply return it. But there's an environmental cost to returns.
- Are We Doomed If We Don't Curb Carbon Emissions by 2030 ... ›
- California Winery Cuts Carbon Emissions With Lighter Bottles ... ›
- Wealthy One Percent Are Producing More Carbon Emissions Than ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
- 14 States On Track to Meet Paris Targets - EcoWatch ›
- Biden Vows to Ax Keystone XL if Elected - EcoWatch ›
- Biden Names John Kerry as First-Ever Climate Envoy - EcoWatch ›
By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.
We Need More Than Listening<p>By now we have all become sadly accustomed to the current administration sidelining scientists, most prominently Dr. Anthony Fauci, because the facts they provide do not fit with the political rhetoric of the moment.</p><p>I have <a href="https://www.csldf.org/2019/08/22/csldf-helps-climate-scientist-maria-caffrey-fight-for-scientific-integrity/" target="_blank">my own history</a> of filing a scientific integrity complaint with the National Park Service (which falls under the Department of the Interior) after senior ranking employees attempted to censor one of my scientific reports. I know all too well the damage and pain that these actions cause, not just for the individual scientist, but also because these <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/attacks-on-science" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">attacks on science</a> over the last few years have undermined sound, evidence-based decision making.</p><p>President-elect Biden has repeatedly said that he will <a href="https://thehill.com/homenews/521638-trump-biden-will-listen-to-the-scientists-if-elected" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">listen to the scientists</a>. While this is certainly a welcome change, listening can only take us so far. This past week Lauren Kurtz from the <a href="https://www.csldf.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Climate Science Legal Defense Fund</a> and my colleague <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/about/people/gretchen-goldman" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gretchen Goldman</a> published <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ten-steps-that-can-restore-scientific-integrity-in-government/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an article</a> listing 10 actions the new administration should implement to show their commitment to strengthening government science:</p><ol><li>Clearly prohibit political interference and censorship.</li><li>Protect scientists' communication rights.</li><li>Acknowledge that attempts to violate scientific integrity, even if ultimately not fruitful, are still violations.</li><li>Protect federal scientists' right to provide information to Congress and other lawmakers.</li><li>Commit to incorporating the best science as part of agency decisions.</li><li>Elevate agency scientific integrity policies to have the full force of law.</li><li>Publicly release anonymized information about scientific integrity complaints and their resolutions at every agency.</li><li>Institute an intra-agency workforce, potentially under the White House <a href="https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/strengthening-science-and-si-at-ostp.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Office of Science and Technology Policy</a>, to coordinate scientific integrity efforts across agencies, foster discussion of policy improvements, and standardize criteria for policies across agencies.</li><li>Strengthen whistleblower protections.</li><li>Ensure that policies cover all actors who will be dealing with science.</li></ol>
Time for Action<p>I have spoken to many scientists, particularly federal scientists, who are eager to turn the page so they can hurry back to the work they had been doing before this administration, but I urge caution in assuming that things can be "normal" again.</p><p>Before Trump, I naively thought the scientific integrity policies established during the <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/12/19/scientific-integrity-policies-update" target="_blank">Obama administration</a> would be sufficient. I never imagined that any administration could so willfully ignore and attack expert advice and evidence that is intended to protect us and our public lands.</p><p>I have personally witnessed how hard our federal scientists work. They put in long hours with minimal pay (far less that what they could get if they worked in private industry) to pursue one simple goal: to make things better for the nation.</p><p>We need stronger scientific integrity policies to protect these people and their work. But more than that, we need stronger scientific integrity laws because they also benefit society.</p>
By Andrea Germanos
Environmental campaigners stressed the need for the incoming Biden White House to put in place permanent protections for Alaska's Bristol Bay after the Trump administration on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine that threatened "lasting harm to this phenomenally productive ecosystem" and death to the area's Indigenous culture.
<div id="da98c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="478a197b7c59c92787c92bec92f1ac39"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1331662923710693376" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Bristol Bay forever, Pebble mine never. #NoPebbleMine #SaveBristolBay https://t.co/CBQ9zuy8A5</div> — Save Bristol Bay (@Save Bristol Bay)<a href="https://twitter.com/SaveBristolBay/statuses/1331662923710693376">1606328156.0</a></blockquote></div>
- Pebble Mine Threatens One of the Last Great Salmon Rivers ... ›
- The Pebble Mine Is Too Toxic Even for the Trump Administration ... ›
- Trump Admin Reverses Obama-Era Restrictions on Pebble Mine ... ›
OlgaMiltsova / iStock / Getty Images Plus
By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.