Review--Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret
It is often joked that even paranoids have real enemies and a case in point is the alarming new documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. It may be paranoid to suggest that environmental groups ignore the leading cause of deforestation, methane and ocean degradation --animal agriculture--for financial gain. But why won't Emily Meredith, spokesperson for the industry group, Animal Agriculture Alliance, deny donating to such environmental groups? Twice saying she cannot answer the questions as she looks at an off camera adviser?
It may be paranoid to allege that activists who challenge the cattle industry risk their lives, yet activist nun Sister Dorothy Stang was shot six times outside the town of Anapu, Brazil for doing exactly that. A rancher in Brazil’s Amazon was sentenced to 30 years in prison for ordering the killing.
Directed by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, Cowspiracy connotes other popular movies like Bowling for Columbine, Super Size Me and An Inconvenient Truth with its blend of entertaining statistics and "gotcha" style interviews.
And some organizations are definitely "got." When asked about the role of animal agriculture in environmental degradation, Ann Notthoff, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, emits a drawn-out creepy laugh and says she doesn’t know anything about "cow parts." When asked about the sustainability of any fishing given the huge numbers of unintended species that become "bykill," Dr. Geoff Shester with Oceana gives director Kip Andersen a lesson in capitalism. The ocean is a "conveyer belt" and fish are constantly replenishing he says. As long as we catch and eat the "interest" and not the "principle," there is no problem.
A spokesman for Amazon Watch cannot answer what the "leading cause" of deforestation is and hems and haws for excruciating seconds on camera. A spokesman for the Surfrider Foundation acknowledges that animal agriculture might be an environmental problem somewhere but not in California. And director of the Sierra Club Bruce Hamilton's answer when asked by Andersen about animal agriculture--"What about it?"--is so disingenuous, it becomes the lead-in to the entire movie. Few if any of the environmental groups even cite animal agriculture on their web sites, says Andersen.
Andersen's interview of California Water Resources Control Board officials was more nuanced. They admit, somewhat sheepishly, that animal agriculture is the top water user in the state but say it is not their "area" and that you can't change human "behavior." Andersen tells the officials he doesn't buy it--telling people to take "shorter showers" and make other water lifestyle changes, is also asking people to change their behavior.
Early in the movie, Andersen says he had been made a passionate environmentalist after watching Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and pledged to bicycle everywhere and take short showers. But then Andersen discovered that animal agriculture was the leading and often undisclosed source of resource degradation and pollution, accounting for a third of the earth's fresh water usage, most rain forest destruction and the ocean's growing dead zones. He discovers eating one hamburger uses as much water as two months of showers. Cowspiracy was born.
Environmental organizations that ignore agriculture are not the only groups coming off badly in the movie. Grass-fed beef operations are "even more unsustainable than factory farms," because they require three times more resources says the movie after a visit to one such farm. The farming couple who say they "love animals" which is why they are in the "meat business" (and whose child hugs the pigs while saying "they are going to be bacon") reveal grass-fed operations as nothing more than feel-good exercises for their operators.
One spokesperson in Cowspiracy compares animal agriculture to the alcoholic in a family who no one wants to talk about even as the harm spills over into the family, society and onto the highway. Ironically, two representatives of animal agriculture who are interviewed in the film are in less denial than the environmental and grass-fed cattle groups who are shown. There is not enough land available to do "this type of dairying" a dairy manager, surrounded by cows, admits on camera. A dairy CEO makes a similar concession. The world cannot be fed with animal based products, he says.
Despite the film's name, Cowspiracy addresses industrial fishing and shows disturbing scenes of fish and shark butchery. It shows a very-much-alive dairy cow loaded by several workers onto a front loader, no doubt a "downer," and the bloody teats of another cow. On a free-range duck operation, the farmer allows Anderson to film the slaughter of two ducks, tame enough to lie on a table awaiting their deaths. The farmer says he was taught to slaughter animals by his father who trained him as a boy to kill his own pet rabbits which, he says, had "names." "After a while you just learn it is something you have to do," he tells the camera crew.
Cowspiracy leaves little doubt about the scourge of animal agriculture in the US and the world and includes interviews with Michael Pollan, Dr. Richard Oppenlander, Dr. Will Tuttle, Will Potter, representatives from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and a former board member of Greenpeace. Less clear is the reason for environment groups' silence about animal agriculture or "cowspiracy." Could it be the same thing that propels animal agriculture itself--money?
Visit Cowspiracy for more information about the film.