Cowspiracy

At least they got the title correct: It is a cowspiracy, one to remove animal agriculture from the world.

The documentary (if one could use that term- it seems extremely ill-fitting) explores (poorly) the impact of beef cattle- and all animal agriculture- on the environment, basing their thoughts on the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s “Livestock’s Long Shadow” (2006) report.

The show starts with an exploration of why environmentalists and groups like Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd, and other major NGO environmental watch groups appear to ignore the impact of livestock on the environment. Aside from a few mentions of deforestation in Brazil and some runoff issues associated more with lawn fertilizer than livestock production, major groups have been largely silent on the issue of livestock polluting the world. Why?

Well, the producer wants the public to believe that this is a result of politicking, that the farmers and ranchers of the United States (where most environmental groups are headquartered) petition the government to cover up negative information on the industry as a whole. First, if I may, this is one of the most hypocritical stances in existence: The producer is accusing the lobbyists for animal ag of doing exactly the same thing as lobbyists do for the environment. In western democracies functioning under a capitalistic economy, lobbying for the interests of industry is a given. No surprises there. We all do it: Oil and Gas, Animal Ag, Crop Production, Forestry, Auto Industry, the list is as long as the number of companies in the world. Why he would chose to showcase this is beyond me.

Perhaps the most glaring issue I see with this documentary, apart from sheer fear-mongering among consumers, is the fact that the filmmaker decided to cite old and inaccurate FAO statistics. The bulk of the information presented is cited from the 2006 FAO publication, “Livestock’s Long Shadow.” Admittedly, a black mark on an essential industry. However, a few years later, the FAO admitted that the information used to extrapolate their findings was “like comparing apples to oranges.” Evidently, the 2006 report took into account all emissions associated with livestock, their transportation, housing, and production of their feed. Fair enough. However, the error comes when the report did not account for the same information in the transportation industry, and only reported emissions caused by the use of vehicles, not their manufacture, or the production of fossil fuels, mining of ores or procurement of the myriad other elements that go into making cars, moving cars, and running cars. Thus, the ratios in the report were drastically skewed. In the 2006 report, the numbers looked far worse for Ag than they did for transport, and so it was easier for the producer to use this information, rather than the revised, updated information the FAO put out later.

Finally,  the filmmaker makes no attempt whatsoever to address the technological advances this industry has made in the last 50 years. We are producing the same amount of beef, using substantially fewer animals, much less feed, much less water, and, logically, much less land than we were even 20 years ago. Not only does the producer not talk about any of these items, he discounts the benefit that Genetically Modified Organisms (most used for animal feed or biofuel) have provided to the environment. Ignoring these facts is akin to saying cars are bad, never mind the economic, social and technological advancements that have occurred since their invention.

Cowspiracy is a conspiracy to instill fear of technology and advancement in agriculture among the moderate consumers of the world, by painting the animal agricultural industry with one environmentally destructive brush, and ignoring the leaps and bounds the industry has made over the last decades. Is environment an issue that the industry must address? Absolutely. Are we addressing it? Yes.

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