A new Netflix documentary series promises to focus on “scams and sabotage” in the agriculture and food industry. It offers plenty of gloom and doom but often leaves the viewer with a sense that farmers are caring and compassionate and often just pawns in a bigger, sinister world beyond their control.
The six-episode series, Rotten, was released on Netflix, the giant U.S. online movie streaming service, the first week of January. The hour-long episodes cover issues in the honey, peanut, garlic, fish, chicken and milk industries. A tagline reads: “This docuseries travels deeps into the heart of the food supply chain to reveal unsavory truths and expose hidden forces that shape what we eat.”
The dairy episode focuses on traditional American dairy farms struggling with bills. At one point, the narrator says: “The great age of the family dairy farm is over. What was once an iconic way of life is now more like a money-losing hobby.” Other dairy farms switched to selling raw milk to make a buck.
Much of the episode focuses on Pennsylvania dairy farmer Brian Smith. He takes a job as a bus driver to make ends meet. Smith gets paid US $18 per hundredweight for traditional milk, while an organic farmer gets $45 per hundredweight for his milk. Meanwhile, raw milk can sell for as high as US $2.40 a litre.
The story then switches to the raw milk debate, and focuses on Organic Pastures, the largest raw milk dairy in the U.S. with 105 employees and 500 cows producing 333,000 litres of milk a month and $10 million in annual revenues. However, there have been three E. coli outbreaks due to the farm’s raw milk since 2006. The episode also tells the story from a parent of one of the children who nearly died from one of the E. coli outbreaks.
The chicken episode revolves around someone who sabotaged numerous chicken barns by raising the temperature and cutting off the ventilation so the birds suffocated. The documentary then switched to a company in Brazil, partly owned by an American chicken company, that was eventually charged with bribery.
There is no clear message about the average farmer in these episodes, other than offering a sympathetic view of their hard work and hardships while operating in a big, bad world.