Are we headed for extinction by global warming in the next hundred years? The documentary, Cowspiracy, points to our addiction to meat, and the way we raise livestock to feed that craving, as one of our greatest threats. Producers Kip Anderson and Keagan Kuhn, interviewed environmentalists and scientists to get some answers because we must rely on a sustainable planet to grow food and breed livestock for consumption.
Aspects of global warming, from pollution to land degradation, ultimately affect our nutrition or lack thereof. This blog’s purpose is to share some highlights of the documentary to get us thinking. I did no fact-checking, but will tell you several sources I’ve read and viewed on the topic tend to agree with Cowspiracy’s conclusions. See what you think. It is available on Netflix if you want to watch it yourself.
Kip Anderson called himself an obsessive, compulsive environmentalist. He did everything he could to shrink his carbon footprint, including bicycling instead of driving. Then he discovered all he was doing was not impacting the environment in a meaningful way. It was beyond one person. What does the planet need? How much and when? He set about to interview experts in climatology, agriculture, and “green” organizations like the Sierra Club.
What they found
Livestock gobble up resources and water at an alarming rate. Comparing carbon emissions, coal use, and fracking, with raising cattle, cows lead in resource consumption and environmental degradation.
According to Anderson and Kuhn, it takes 660 gallons of water to produce ¼ pound of ground beef. That doesn’t include acre upon acre of land to grow corn and soybeans to feed thousands and thousands of cows. Ironically, cows are ruminating animals and should eat grasses, not corn. Anderson claims 80% of children starve in some countries where more feed is produced for animals than for people. (Even here in the US, we grow more food for cattle as well. Plus, 80% of antibiotics pharmaceutical companies produce goes to cattle, rather than people).
What’s the scoop on the poop?
Not only that, according to the United Nations, methane gas excreted from cattle is 86 times more destructive to the planet than carbon emissions. One source Anderson interviewed said our current donation of nitrous oxide into the environment is running at 65%. By 2050, global increase in meat and dairy consumption will drive that percentage up to 80%. Without addressing animal methane, even if we stopped using oil and gas today, we would still exceed carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. If we decreased animal methane, we would see results in a decade. Decreasing carbon dioxide emissions only would show results in 100 years.
It gets worse. (Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m just sharing highlights of the documentary, without commenting.) Besides floods, droughts and fires from global warming, animal waste contributes to dead zones, where nothing can grow – 95 thousand square miles devoid of life. Also, we are losing large swaths of the Amazon Rain-forest from mega-projects such as logging, agribusiness, palm oil production and mining. Yet 1 acre is cleared every second to raise livestock and produce their feed.
Why Don’t We Do Something?
Some environmental agencies attribute our planetary crisis to carbon dioxide emissions and other pollutants, like plastics, before they look at the cattle and dairy industries. When Kip asked about methane emissions form cattle, many representatives looked blankly at him. “What about it?” they asked.
Other scientists said the facts are out there. But how do you get Americans to give up steak and hamburgers? If environmental agencies yammered at people about it, would they become our cultural enemy? No more pulled pork, barbecues, hots on the 4th? That’s just plain un-American. Might s as well throw apple pies into our mothers’ faces!
I leave you with this example. It takes only 1/6 of an acre to feed one vegan for a day; three times that to feed one vegetarian who does eat dairy and eggs. However, it takes 18 times that much land to feed a “meat and potatoes” person.
Right now, I’m chewing on that comparison.
Sue, where did you find that photo that looks like “The Cow Hotel?” In reality, cows, pigs and chickens live in filth. Forced to lie down (if they possibly can due to overcrowding) in waste up to their stomachs, that is the main reason the large percentage of antibiotics are given to food animals. Disease runs rampant and many animals are sick with tumors, open festering wounds and still endure the horrific line speeds and torturous slaughter just so the meat lovers can have their cake and eat it too! I realize you know this Sue. I’m just posting for those who just might see these facts and think twice before they take that first bite.
You are absolutely right, Joanne. If I could have found a picture of what you describe without a copyright, I would have used it. Actually, that was the worst one I could find in the public domain.
However, I will be blogging about everything you wrote and will have links for those with strong stomachs.
I have not seen the movie, and your report did not mention it, but I wonder if either Mr Anderson or Mr Kuhn investigated or compared their findings on CAFOs with Pastured Organic livestock? (Is Mr Anderson as obsessive and compulsive about research as he is about environmentalism?) I agree that conventional livestock operations are terrible for the animals, the environment, not to mention the consumer! However, if they had done the research, perhaps they would have seen another side of the “meat industry”. We eat exclusively pastured organic chicken, beef and pork purchased from a family farm and just like buying organic vegetables, there is a price difference and most certainly a taste difference! Organic pastured meat is better for the environment not to mention the consumer! In many cases, the manure that often putrefies in lagoons on conventional farms, is considered a valuable resource and becomes organic fertilizer to enhance organic vegetable production for vegetarians and vegans. When we had our farm, our pastured poultry were a healthy integral part of our operation and were hard working members of the farm staff! While “CAFOs” are an unhealthy and inhumane way to raise animals for meat, eating humanly raised, pastured meat is just not the same and does not have the same negative environmental impact! Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater!
I heartily agree, Deb. The difference between humanely raised livestock and the CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operations) – not even a “farm” in any sense – is like day and night. Also, there aren’t thousands of cows, pigs, chickens creating the problems described, rather, a lot fewer that can be “husbanded” well. In those cases, the scoop on the poop is that the cow plops are considered “farmer’s gold” because they fertilize their fields of grasses that the cows eat. I gather the thrust of Cowspiracy was related to those massive programs, not individual farmers that raise livestock organically. Thanks for pointing out the benefits of organically grown meat for folks who want to eat meat and remain healthy.