There is a shorter version of this review, posted on the VEGAN LIFESTYLE ASSOCIATION website :
‘Cowspiracy : The Sustainability Secret’ is a documentary film first released on 26th June, 2014. It is directed by Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn and presented by Kip Anderson.
The first screen shot is a pretty telling quote from Martin Luther King Jr:
‘In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends’
I must admit that, although I have known about this film for some time, I had not got round to watching it because I didn’t think it would tell me anything I didn’t already know. How wrong I was! I have now watched it several times and I have been shocked and angry in equal measure. It would appear that the impact of animal agriculture on our planet is dramatically more detrimental than the majority of us had realised and Kip discovered that in the US this information is being suppressed in a most sinister way by both the government and a wide variety of ‘environmental’ organisations.
Kip sets out to investigate how much water is consumed during the production of meat and meat products as well as the contribution of animal agriculture to the Greenhouse Effect and Climate Change as well as other pollution and environmental degradation.
He began his quest following a 2006 report from the United Nations which states ‘Rearing cattle produces more greenhouse gases than driving cars’ – in fact it claimed that all forms of transport contribute 13% of all greenhouse gases, whilst animal agriculture contributes 18%.
He then came across a variety of figures in relation to water usage. For example, in the US, Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) for natural gas uses 100 billion gallons per year. Animal agriculture? 34 TRILLION GALLONS in the US alone!
Indeed, a single quarter pound hamburger uses up 660 gallons of water, which is equivalent to around 2 month’s worth of showers!
It apparently takes 2500 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef.
All of this equates to animal agriculture accounting for 55% of all water usage – domestic use is a mere 5%!!
A 2009 report, published by 2 advisers from the World Bank concluded that the Greenhouse gases from animal agriculture do not contribute 18% , but a colossal 51% - Yes OVER HALF!!
In addition, animal agriculture :
Uses ONE THIRD of the earth’s fresh water
Occupies 45% of the earth’s land
Is responsible for 91% of Amazon deforestation
Is the leading cause of Ocean Dead Zones and Habitat Destruction – and, therefore, species extinction
In the US alone, produces 116,000 pounds of waste EVERY SECOND
However, the following figure is truly staggering!
Around 10,000 years ago, at the start of agriculture, the biomass of human beings was around 1% of the animal biomass on the earth. Today, humans, along with the animals we are raising are 98% of the animal biomass!!
Apart from all these figures, the other shocking aspect of Cowspiracy is the way in which various organisations responded to Kip’s request for an interview. Despite several attempts to make contact with Greenpeace (including a visit to their offices), they refused absolutely to discuss the environmental issues surrounding animal agriculture!
When other organisations were prepared to meet with him, the responses from their representatives were puzzling to say the least.
Amongst others, these included The Sierra Club, The California Department of Water Resources, The Natural Resources Defense Council, Rainforest Action Network, Oceana and the Surfrider Foundation.
Most of them suddenly appeared to be confused when the subject of animal agriculture was raised – and gave the impression that they were under some sort of pressure NOT to discuss it!
Bruce Hamilton of the Sierra Club cited burning of fossil fuels as the main contributor to global warming, but when it was put to him that animal agriculture is a much greater contributor tried to suggest that, although it IS a problem, that would not really be their assessment!
Two officials of the California Department of Water were happy to discuss ways in which individuals can reduce their use of water (reduced flow shower heads and taps, not using hosepipes etc) but became EXTREMELY uncomfortable when it was suggested that such savings are insignificant when compared to the amount of water used in animal agriculture! Government recommendations state that it is possible to save 47 gallons per day – but, remember, it takes 660 gallons to produce ONE hamburger and 2500 gallons to produce a pound of beef!
As regards deforestation (the main cause of which is undoubtedly animal agriculture), the Executive Director of Rainforest Action Network said she didn’t really know what is the number one cause of rainforest deforestation! Really?? One acre of rainforest is destroyed every second and the Rainforest Action Network website makes no mention of animal agriculture. However, they do high light Palm Oil production as a major factor.
The reality is that Palm Oil production in Indonesia has, so far been responsible for the destruction of 26 million acres, whilst the figure for animal agriculture is 136 million acres!
Kip then spoke to the Programme Director of Amazon Watch. After a great deal of procrastination, she eventually conceded that the biggest cause of deforestation is animal agriculture – Hooray!!
However, she was then very quick to point out that, although many people would speak out, many were reluctant to do so given the brutal murder of an American nun, Sister Dorothy Strang in 2005. She had spent a lifetime living in the Amazon rainforest and campaigning against its destruction. One evening, when returning home through the forest she was gunned down.
IN TOTAL OVER 1100 RAINFOREST ACTIVISTS HAVE BEEN KILLED IN BRAZIL DURING THE LAST 20 YEARS
In my opinion, Kip’s interviews at the Natural Resourses Defense Council and the Animal Agriculture Alliance were an absolute joke.
The California Advocacy Director of the Natural Resourses Defense Council appeared to have no real understanding of the issues and even found it extremely amusing that ‘cattle farts’ (methane) might be a problem.
The reality is that, in the US, the amount of animal waste is 130 x greater than that produced by humans – and without any effective means of disposal.
The lady speaking for the Animal Agriculture Alliance seemed extremely uncomfortable – especially when asked if they provided financial support for any environmental organisations and Greenpeace in particular. Indeed, her boss (the President and CEO) was clearly sitting offscreen and advised her not to comment!
On the other side, however, he was able to talk to a number of environmental authors and researchers who were quite prepared to tell it as it is.
These included Dr Richard Oppenlander, Kirk R Smith (Professor of Global Environmental Health at the University of California, Berkley), Demosthenes Maratos (The Sustainability Institute), Dr Will Tuttle, Michael Pollan (author of the Omnivore’s Dilemma) and Will Anderson (Founder of Greenpeace Alaska).
Chilling quotes from some of these were :
‘Animal agriculture is THE problem’ – Will Anderson.
‘Raising animals and killing them for food is really what is killing the planet’ – Demosthenes Maratos.
In addition to raising animals for food there is also the issue of fishing – though there is a link. As well as the unsustainability of fishing, much pollution from animal agriculture is causing the creation of ocean deadzones when it runs off the land and into the seas.
In relation to this, Kip visits a number of organisations. Oceana is the biggest environmental organisation campaigning for protection of the oceans and their website suggests that the best way to conserve fish stocks is to eat more fish! In another bizarre interview, their California Program Director, Dr Geoff Shester, appears to be amused by some of the suggestions put to him and finds it very difficult to provide sensible answers.
Equally, Dr Chad Nelsen, of Surfrider Foundation, finds it hard to admit that animal agriculture might be a major contributor to ocean pollution. He suggests that it might be more of a problem in some areas than other – such as the east coast - even though he is located in southern California, a MAJOR centre for the raising of animals!
Spokes people for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Food Empowerment Project are extremely concerned about the state of the oceans and levels of pollution, overfishing and by-kill. They both suggest that there can be no such thing as sustainable fishing.
This last point is corroborated by Dr Richard Oppenlander – he is of the opinion that ‘overfishing’ is not the problem – it is simply fishing at all, when for every pound of fish caught for consumption, FIVE pounds are returned as by-kill and this includes 40 – 50 million sharks every year!
At some point in the making of the documentary, Kip received a message to inform him that his funding was being withdrawn – clearly he had stepped on one toe too many!
He has an interesting conversation with Howard Lyman – author of ‘Mad Cowboy’ and ‘no More Bull’ – who was sued for comments he made about the meat industry on the Oprah Winfrey Show. He warns Kip that he should be well aware that he is putting his head on the block by making this film and that he should not underestimate the legal and financial power of the animal agriculture industry.
In addition, Will Potter, a journalist and author of ‘Green is the New Red’, tells him that the animal agriculture industry is one of the most powerful industries on the whole planet. Also that the FBI regard Animal Rights and Environmental Activists as No 1 on their list of domestic terrorists.
So, is there any way that it could be possible to make animal agriculture sustainable? To try and find out, Kip made a visit to a ‘sustainable’ farm in California – where the animals were able to roam over large areas and feed on grass. When questioned about the carbon footprint of their animals, the farmers replied that they didn’t think their way of producing beef had one !
Following his visit, Kip made some calculations and came to the conclusion that not only are grass fed cattle unsustainable, but they are actually LESS sustainable than grain fed cattle – hard to believe but true!
What about dairy? Marcus Benedetti, President of Clover-Stornetta Dairy, and John Taylor of Bivalve Organic Dairy (large producers of dairy products) both admitted that it would NOT be possible to produce dairy products to feed the world’s population in a sustainable way!
IT REQUIRES 1000 gallons OF WATER TO PRODUCE ONE GALLON OF MILK
How about individuals keeping animals to provide their needs – so-called backyard farming. A visit to a gentleman keeping ducks in his backyard and, when needed, killing them with an axe, was a pretty distressing experience – and, yet again, the figures do not stack up.
A further interview with David Simon, the author of ‘Meatonomics’ exposes another major issue in the production and consumption of meat – the hidden costs. He maintains that, as a result of the meat industry, the US government (and therefore, the taxpayers) is having to provide finance for additional healthcare, subsidies, environmental damage etc to a tune of 414 billion dollars per year. If this had to be reflected in the retail prices of meat, eggs and dairy, their cost would have to rocket.
Towards the end of the film, Kip begins to wonder whether the problem is simply that it is almost impossible to feed in excess of 7 billion humans on the planet?
However, the fact remains that the 7 billion humans are currently raising around 70 billion animals for food.
Human daily requirements can be calculated at 5.2 billion gallons of water and 21 billion lbs of food
For the 1.5 billion cattle alone, the figures are 45 billion gallons of water and 135 billion lbs of food
If we can manage to produce this amount of food for the cattle, it is pretty obvious that it would not be a problem to produce enough plant based food to feed the human population.
Should we be developing plant based foods to replicate meat, eggs and dairy? This is happening in the US – led by such companies as Beyond Meat, Beyond Eggs and Omega Creamery. Personally, I don’t need these kind of foods – I am perfectly happy eating plants and do not need them to appear to be similar to animal products. However, if these sorts of foods are able to persuade and encourage people to stop eating animal products, then it has to be of huge benefit to the planet.
There is a massive amount of evidence to demonstrate that, not only can we live perfectly well on a plant based diet, but it is actually much better for our health and wellbeing. If you are in any doubt about this, then watch the interview with Dr Michael Klaper about milk and dairy products!
In EVERY respect - health and wellbeing of both humans and the planet – it is hugely preferable and indeed, necessary for everyone to consume less or no animal products.
The figures speak for themselves.
In terms of land use, a vegan diet requires one sixth of an acre, a vegetarian diet half an acre and a meat eating diet THREE acres :
Every day a vegan diet, compared with a meat eating diet can save :
1100 gallons of water
45 lbs of grain
30 sq ft of forested land
20 lbs carbon dioxide
1 animal’s life
If you still need convincing, watch COWSPIRACY – it can be downloaded at www.cowspiracy.com
or from www.netflix.com