The US food industry has launched a campaign to counter the bad publicity it expects to receive from a new film linking fast food chains and the industries that support them to the nation's health and social problems.
The film, based on Eric Schlosser's 2001 book Fast Food Nation and staring Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, is set to premiere today at the Cannes Film Festival in France.
It is a fictional version of the book, which had examined the social changes resulting from the rising dominance of the fast food industry. The industry is accused of using political influence to increase profits at the expense of human health and the social conditions of its workers.
But according to a goup of food industry associations, this is the latest move in a series of attacks by "critics of our food system" who are "promoting their agendas using information that is inaccurate, misleading and incomplete."
In retaliation, 18 industry organizations this month launched a website, called Best Food Nation, which claims to provide fact-based responses to the concerns raised. Members include the Food Products Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation, as well as a number of commodity trade associations.
"We believe it's important to set the record straight when critics use out of date or inaccurate information to attack the food system," said Mike John, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
But the industry has good cause for concern, based on reactions to the 2004 documentary Super Size Me, which criticized fast food chain McDonald's and which attracted international attention to the damaging health effects of a fast food diet.
Schlosser also released another book this month called Chew On This: Everything You Don't Want To Know About Fast Food. He accompanied the launch of the book, which targets children and teenagers, with a string of presentations in middle schools.
But the food industry hopes to offset a mass public reaction to the film and the new book by spreading information about the "positive contributions delivered by the food system each and every day."
The Best Food Nation website claims that "visitors to the site can learn about efforts that directly benefit the public including the various balanced food choices offered by restaurants and food product manufacturers, the creation of millions of good jobs which offer competitive wages, the practice of responsible animal welfare and environmental stewardship by our nation's farmers and ranchers, and the numerous benefits local communities receive through contributions and social programs."
"We invite the public to learn the whole story about our safe, abundant, affordable food supply," said Sue Hensley of the National Restaurant Association.
"By doing so, people can separate the myths from the facts and form their opinions based on accurate information. We recognize that our food system provides a wealth of choices and we want consumers to make informed decisions that promote a healthy lifestyle."