Bitter Harvest: The Government Would Never Do That!

June 23, 2009


I saw the movie Bitter Harvest recently. It was made in 1981, and stars Ron Howard and Art Carney. It is based on a true story, and is along the same story line as A Civil Action in 1998 (also based on a true story) starring John Travolta.


It’s the realization that this story is based on true events that is so striking, and so repulsive and SO maddening. Ron Howard stars as Ned De Vries, a Michigan farmer, who notices his herd of cows becoming very ill with strange symptoms (like curling hooves and refusal to eat). Ned’s baby son also comes down with some mysterious sickness, and Ned and his wife are going beserk trying to figure out what’s wrong. The Department of Agriculture inspects his farm, only to conclude that Ned’s cows are “malnourished,” and Ned is chastised for farm mismanagement. Meanwhile, milk production drops to almost nothing and Ned’s cows continue to languish and die.

When Ned discovers a horde of dead rats near his cow feed sacks, he performs a rat autopsy (in the kitchen!!) and discovers undigested green balls of the cow feed he’d been feeding his cows. His persistent investigations into the matter lead him to his feed grain supplier. Ned discovers that through unsafe manufacturing practices, the grain supplier accidentally mixed flame-retardant material with his feed grain. The flame-retardant material contains PBB, a known toxin to living things. PBB stays in the fat cells of living creatures forever, causing severe defects and diseases, and causes cancers, memory loss, and arthritis. Several Michigan farmers had unknowingly purchased this contaminated feed for their milk cows, thereby spreading the toxin into the food chain everywhere.

Ned blew the whistle to the state government, calling the need for an immediate quarantine. The state fat cats refused, saying that the PBB in the food supply was a minor issue; a quarantine would cause panic and, worse, shut down the agricultural economy of Michigan. Ned took the duty on himself, searching for other farmers who’d also been given this feed. Ned dicovered that this contamination issue had been going on for over a YEAR. Other farmers like Ned had called the Department of Agriculture about their sick cows, too, but the government marginalized the farmers and accused them of “mismanagement.”

Finally, Ned called the news media to come to his farm and record the slaughter of his entire herd which had been suffering the severe effects of the poison. Word got out, and under public pressure the state was forced to quarantine the farms (over 500 of them!) and cull the herds (30,000 cattle!). Even so, the effects of PBB were in the food chain and had been consumed by the population. In 1976, testing on people finally started, and it was found that NINETY PERCENT of people tested showed levels of PBB. A year later, a law was finally passed to remove all contamined foods from the marketplace. It took government less time to pass The Patriot Act and the Bail-Out Act than this!!!

It is unconscionable– UNCONSCIONABLE– that this ever occurred. And this is not unique to the state of Michigan, either. In my own little bitty town, PBBs had been dumped into our creeks and waterways for DECADES. We are advised never to eat the fish we catch in these contaminated areas. DISGUSTING.

I hate it when some people refuse to see how the government is so evil like this. “The government would never do that!” they say. “The government would never dump Agent Orange on its own citizens for experimental purposes!” “The government would never experiment on mentally ill, or forcibly sterilize people against their will!” “The government would never cover up their role in assassinations or terrorists attacks!”

Rrrrrrright…. Sleep on, little dreamer….

3 Responses to “Bitter Harvest: The Government Would Never Do That!”

  1. P.L. Frederick Says:

    Yes, I think sometimes people who believe “NOBODY would or could ever do something unconscionable” are those afraid to look into things, to examine and to see reality. In order to love others it is necessary to admit to oneself that nobody is perfect, to set boundaries for what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Most especially when the job is Public Service. The few who do commit a crime, whether illegally, amorally, or both, are few and far between. However, ignorance and incompetence and greed enable criminal contagion to spread far and wide. When people care about others — that is the inoculation that protects and cures. That and getting issues out into the open, letting in fresh air, sunlight. Thanks for posting about “Bitter Harvest” and for keeping it out in the open.

  2. SG Entrepreneur Says:

    That is scary … and I do believe the problem persists to this day, especially when it comes to the pharmaceutical industry. I have friends who are doctors and friends who are researchers/scientists in the pharma industry and the doctors will say that drugs are safe and well tested and pharma friends will say all reports are fudged to make it look like the drugs are more effective than they really are.

    So … hey, she still works in there, she knows what’s going on and tries her best to let the people upstairs know but after her lab she doesn’t know what happens next, just that she wouldn’t recommend taking pharma to anyone unless its really necessary.

  3. Tina Says:

    This movie sounds like a worthwhile view, especially being a Michigan resident. I’m for sure going to look for it and watch it with my boys. Thanks for this review!