A Review of Cowspiracy

Published 5.15.2017
I watched Cowspiracy on Netflix a while ago, but I didn’t take notes or write up a review of it. I decided to watch it again, and this time make notes while watching, then write it up. Cowspiracy’s thesis is that if you truly believe in climate change and the effects of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, then you should be vegan because animal husbandry is responsible for a huge amount of methane emissions.

The film opens with a guy from the Sierra Club giving the pitch on climate change, and then he gets asked about animal husbandry. He has no answer— he doesn’t even recognize it’s an issue. Kip Anderson, the narrator and the film maker, was inspired by Al Gore and his “Inconvenient Facts” film. He made all the changes that Gore suggested to minimize his carbon footprint, but it didn’t seem like enough.

Please note: The following is based on my notes while watching the movie, I have not fact checked every claim.

Cattle releases more green house gases than transportation per the United Nations. However, none of the environmental groups focus on animal agriculture. Livestock use a lot more water than oil and gas— and produces roughly the same emissions. Meat and dairy are very water intensive- mostly in the grains that they eat.

One hamburger equals two months of showers or 660 gallons of water. But if we’re reliant on grain, water will still be necessary. Home water use is 5% of total, animal agriculture is 55%. However, government sites for saving water don’t mention animal agriculture— and this is a pre-Trump movie.

So he tries to interview government people, just like the guy in Facing the Fat did. In this case, he does interview people, but no one mentions animal agriculture. In fact, they have nothing to say about the topic when he brings it up.

The claim is that it takes 477 gallons to produce eggs; for cheese, it takes about 900 gallons of water. He asks why not make the message, save water equals eat less meat. The answer? “I don’t think it will happen.” Basically they give no answer. Environmental groups are silent too.

More claims:
  • 65% of nitrous oxide is generated via animal agriculture.
  • Animal agriculture is 50% of the human effect of climate change.
  • Methane production is the issue.
  • Animal agriculture also causes deforestation.

Michael Pollan says the groups don’t address meat because it would hurt their fundraising. Even Gore only wanted to focus on carbon dioxide, because focusing on a second gas would be “too complicated.” That sounds condescending to me. Basically, people like meat and tell them to stop eating it and they stop listening to you.

So then he goes to the environmental groups— gets no one at Greenpeace. The Sierra Club does talk to him, but its focus is not meat. And it does not agree with his assessment. Livestock generate a ton of poop, which causes huge problems beyond methane.

The group Surfrider focuses on the plastic in the ocean. He asked about animal agriculture and its effects. Surfrider guy says it depends are where you are. Then he moves onto fishing/overfishing and bykill. The group Oceana says the way to save fish is to eat fish— but this doesn’t make sense to Kip. Others argue against sustainable fishing too. And people don’t want to stop eating fish.

Then he moves on to the Rain Forest destruction which he claims is mostly for grazing or feed crop growing. However, I recall logging being part of the reason too. So people are against palm oil, but not cattle. Cattle has a much larger effect.

The thesis here is fossil fuels shouldn’t be the focus of climate change activism— animal agriculture should be. He thinks that they are hiding the information for some nefarious reason.

Wow, these environmentalists are tap dancing— they want to focus on fossil fuels, no one focuses on cows. They do sound like they are trying to avoid the issue. Finally one of them admits that agriculture is a big one. But she wouldn’t answer the question as to why no one would say it’s the cow. Then she says that people were killed in Brazil were killed for saying cattle ranching is destroying the Amazon.

One example is Dorothy Stang, a nun, who was killed for saying cattle ranching was destroying the Amazon. Over 1000 activists in Brazil have been killed by cattle ranchers. Greenpeace never does talk with him.

So he goes to a sustainable, grass fed farm— and gets horrified that the kids bond with the pigs, but fully expect to eat them. Asked if beef could be sustainable in Brazil. They don’t think that grass fed beef has a carbon footprint. The fact is that there isn’t enough land for cows to be grass fed. The numbers don’t work. That’s why farmers feed cattle grain. That’s why factory farms came into existence.

He spends some time describing the beef industry, and yes it’s damn ugly. To get dairy, the cow has to give birth. The cow has a baby, and the calves are taken away after 2 days. All cows wind up as beef. Again, all of this makes me want to eat less meat— which is the goal of the movie.

One gallon of milk requires 1000 gallons of water. Cattle rule our public lands. And they are destroying them and predators are being eliminated. As are wild horses, all of which is why our meat is cheap.

He talks with the Animal Agriculture Alliance, which is a pro-livestock group. He also talks with Howard Lyman (was the guy who went on Oprah and wound up getting her sued). Lyman claims that today he’d be guilty under the Patriot Act.

Animal rights groups are at the top of the FBI’s terrorist list? Hmm… really? Above Islamic terrorists? I find that factoid hard to believe. Certainly under Trump I doubt it's true, though Trump's administration is targeting agricultural whistle blowers.

In the middle of filming, he lost the funding for the film though clearly the film got made. He visits another farmer gets freaked out watching a duck get killed. It was a very hard scene to watch, but that's the reality if you eat meat. After that he stops visiting with farmers and moves on to fake foods (vegan eggs and Beyond Meat products).

I've eaten those products, they taste pretty good. but they are ultra-processed foods, don't kid yourself. Goes back to Lyman who says you can’t be an environmentalist if you eat animal products. The rest of the movie is an argument that basing our diets on plant foods, specifically grains, would feed more people and do a lot less damage.

Blue Zones don't get mentioned here, but as my current prism to consider all things diet and health is the Blue Zones, I'm mentioning them. None of the Blue Zones are vegan— there are some vegan Seven Day Adventists, but they are not the longest lived. Adopting a Blue Zone diet would mean eating significantly less meat than is typical in the US. Reducing the amount of meat to the level of the Blue Zones would realize most of what Cowspiracy claims to desire— except the goal that everyone be vegan.

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