“Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” was a documentary produced by two Californians, Kip Anderson, and Keegan Kuhn. The theme behind Cowspiracy is that the beef industry is the most environmentally destructive in the world, compared to other sectors of the economy such as Transport and Household Electricity Costs. Everything from deforestation and drought to murder and manipulation is all laid at the hooves of the beef industry.
The documentary is laden with statistics and facts. Livestock are to blame for over 51% of all Greenhouse Gas emissions, 90% of deforestation of the Amazon and 1,100 activists have been killed over land disputes in Brazil. It also highlights the power that the meat industry has to silence environmental groups. It shows that it takes up to 660 gallons of water to produce one beef burger. The film ends on a positive note singing the praises of veganism, citing both health and environmental benefits.
Research Fraud and Vegan Propaganda
There is one pitfall about the movie Cowspiracy. Practically all its facts and data are known to be wrong by all people who are knowledgeable about science and statistics. One of the main statistics cited in “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” is that 51% of all Greenhouse Gas Emissions (“GHE”) come as a direct result of livestock gas emission. This statistic comes from a single non-peer reviewed report. And the report itself has numerous statistical errors. There are numerous more reliable studies which have been done and show that the number is closer to 15%. This is still a large number which needs to be investigated. But it appears that the two producers simply chose the less accurate study which helped their cause. It is ironic given the accusations in the movie that NGO’s are hiding the science that they prefer to use a study from an NGO instead of a reputable scientific journal. The Union of Concerned Scientists who are concerned about creating a safer and better world using sound science heavily criticized the statistic which was used. Most independent scientific groups still advise focusing on the primary concern, fossil fuels. Scientists are absent throughout the whole movie, with a significant amount of “facts” and “statistics” attributed to farmers, executives, authors, and environmentalists.
Environmental Groups are our enemies
The Conspiracy behind Cowspiracy is that all the NGO’s are just phonies who are not truly battling for the environment and are really just sell outs to the Mega Corporations. The implication from Cowspiracy is that these environmental organizations make money from the Beef industry. This Conspiracy within Cowspiracy is groundless and unfounded. These groups have actually worked for years to prevent pollution in the livestock industry, and have actively campaigned and produced reports and findings in the industry. This was NOT presented in Cowspiracy. The main argument in Cowspiracy was that NGO’s did not do enough to bring awareness to the issue of Green House Gas Emissions produced by livestock on the basis that Livestock Gas emission accounted for 51%. They should not have “wasted” so much time on fossil fuels. However, since the original statistic is inaccurate so is the extrapolation.
Cowspiracy – Extrapolation, and Exaggeration
Cowspiracy does well to generate awareness as to the effect of livestock breeding on climate change. However, it goes down the wrong path. The problem is not beef eating. The problem is the Beef Industry system of production and distribution. The film does not cover sustainable farming methods which have been used for thousands of years but indicates that we should all turn vegan. It almost seems to point the finger at the bovines, which waste so much water and produce so much Methane. It never explores how what they are fed by us, the two footers, increase the Methane they produce, and how concentrating them in a small area and pumping them full of antibiotics, chemicals and hormones might not be the most environmentally protective. There is research to suggest that well-managed cattle in Grassland environments actually lower the level of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, taking these gasses from the atmosphere and storing them in the soil. According to IPCC, grasslands are more efficient at storing carbon than tropical rain forests. Cowspiracy essentially chose unsubstantiated statistics, presented the worst aspects of the beef industry, extrapolated this to all meat eaters (including the indigenous peoples), and urged everyone to go vegan as the only choice to save the planet.
As leading Indian environmental scientist Vandana Shiva explains in her book:
“Ecologically, the cow has been central to Indian civilization…By using crop wastes and uncultivated land, indigenous cattle do not compete with humans for food; rather, they provide organic fertilizer for fields and thus enhance food productivity…Indian cattle provide more food than they consume, in contrast to those of the US cattle industry, in which cattle consume six times more food than they provide.”
Possibly the most insidious elements of Cowspiracy is that Vegans are somehow elites and that ”it’s not possible to be a meat-eating environmentalist”. This is of course completely false. Many of the hardcore frontline environmentalists stem from Brazil and poorer South American Countries, fighting (and sometimes dying) for the environment long before rich white people decided to watch a movie and commit to a lifestyle of buying expensive vegan products. Many of these people cannot afford the vegan way of life. This exclusive element also ignores the cultural importance of hunting for many indigenous societies. While the current system of rearing and distributing beef cannot go on, it is important to use appropriate terminology and not to tar everyone with the same brush. The problem is specifically the way beef is produced in the U.S.
Watch the Cowspiracy Documentary and decide for yourself…
Cowspiracy does do a great job in bringing awareness to the meat industry. Watching a “sustainability raised” duck get murdered with a blunt ax and seeing a cow get loaded onto a bulldozer for slaughter unquestionably sheds some light on what truly goes on. However, the producers did start out with the agenda convince more people to go Vegan. Cowspiracy was in no way independent scientific research.
There is nothing surprisingly new in this documentary from a conspiracy standpoint. Whenever something sensationalist and over the top comes along, it is usually unsubstantiated. As is the case with a lot of facts and figures with Cowspiracy. The problem is that to precisely analyze what is going on, to see the parameters upon which the figures are based on, takes time, effort, intelligence, and attention. Most people like the facts presented to them on a screen, take it as gospel and vow to never eat meat again. It might be worthwhile considering what would the world eat instead of meat, and how would this affect the environment? Because beef happens to be one of the more nutritionally dense and calorie laden foods. We would doubtless need more farmland to plant acres of crops in the absence of Beef. And this would have effects which are yet unknown.
To sum up Cowspiracy, it did well to generate awareness for Animal cruelty, particularly by videoing the slaughter of the cow and the duck. It also did well to create awareness of the environmental impact of fossil fuels. But it went too far, and there is nothing to suggest that beef cannot be sustainably raised in small farms, as has been the case historically. The figures they cite are so misleading as to be completely false. They focus too much on NGO’s who are not hand in hand with the Mega Corporations as suggested, and it also implies that scientists are covering up the effect of the beef industry on climate change, which is not the case given a significant amount of accurate scientific data documenting its effects.