Cowspiracy takes us through a very personal journey to show just how there is only one course of action that will allow this species to have a reasonable chance of surviving at the current population levels. We can change and adapt and go to a more healthy diet or we can wait for a massive ecological change and have our population levels and civilization crash like so many others have before.
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In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
—Martin Luther King, Jr.
Bruce Hamilton, Sierra Club, Deputy Executive Director: The world’s climate scientists tell us that the highest safe level of emissions would be around 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. We’re already at 400. They tell us that the safest we could hope to do, without having perilous implications as far as drought, famine, human conflict, major species extinction, would be about a 2-degree Celsius increase in temperature. We’re rapidly approaching that, and with all the built-in carbon dioxide that’s already in the atmosphere, we’re easily going to exceed that. So, on our watch, we are facing the next major extinction of species on the Earth that we haven’t seen since the time of the dinosaurs disappearing. When whole countries go underwater because of sea-level rise, when whole countries find that there’s so much drought that they can’t feed their population, and as a result, they need to desperately migrate to another country or invade another country, we’re gonna have climate wars in the future.
Kip Andersen: And what about livestock and animal agriculture?
Hamilton: Uh… Well, what about it? I mean…
Andersen: My name’s Kip. This is me. I had a cliché US American childhood. My mom was a teacher. My dad was in the military. And I have one sister. I played all the sports growing up, but I always loved the outdoors and camping. Life was simple, not a care in the world. And then this guy showed up. Like so many of us, I saw his film, An Inconvenient Truth, about the impacts of global warming, and it scared the emojis out of me. In Al Gore’s film, he describes how Earth is in peril. Climate change stands to affect all life on this planet. From monster storms, raging wildfires, record droughts, ice caps melting, acidification of the oceans, to entire countries going underwater, that could all be caused by humans’ demands on the Earth.
I wanted to do everything I could to help. I made up my mind, right then and there, to change how I lived and to do whatever I possibly could to find a way for all of us to live together in balance with the planet sustainably forever. I started to do all the things Al told us to do. I became an OCE, Obsessive Compulsive Environmentalist. I separated the trash and recycling, I composted, changed all the light bulbs, took short showers, turned the water off when I brushed my teeth, turned off lights when leaving the room, and rode my bike instead of driving everywhere. But as the years went by, it seemed as if things were getting worse. I had to wonder, with all the continuing ecological crisis facing the planet, even if every single one of us adopted these conservation habits, was this really gonna be enough to save the world? It just seemed that there was something more to the story. I thought I was doing everything I could to help the planet. But then, with one’s friend’s post, everything changed.
The post sent me to a report online, published by the United Nations, stating that raising livestock produces more greenhouse gases than the emissions of the entire transportation sector. This means that the meat and dairy industry produces more greenhouse gases than the exhaust of all cars, trucks, trains, boats, planes combined. Cows and other farmed animals produce a substantial amount of methane from their digestive process. Methane gas from livestock is 86 times more destructive than carbon dioxide from vehicles. Here, I’d been riding my bike everywhere to help reduce emissions. But it turns out, there’s more to climate change than just fossil fuels. I started doing more research. The UN, along with other agencies, reported that not only did livestock play a major role in global warming, it is also the leading cause of resource consumption and environmental degradation destroying the planet today. How is it possible I wasn’t aware of this?
I thought this information would be plastered everywhere in the environmental community. I went to the nation’s largest environmental organization’s websites, 350.org, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Climate Reality, Rainforest Action Network, Amazon Watch, and was shocked to see they had virtually nothing on animal agriculture. What was going on? Why wouldn’t they have this information on their main page? It seemed the main focus for many of these groups was natural gas and oil production, with fracking being the latest hot issue due to water usage and contamination. Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas uses an incredible amount of water. A staggering 100 billion gallons of water is used every year in the United States. But when I compared this with animal agriculture, raising livestock just in the US consumes 34 trillion gallons of water. And it turns out the methane emissions from both industries are nearly equal. Living in California, a state plagued by drought and water shortages, water use is a major concern for many of us.
Heather Cooley, Pacific Institute, Water Program Co-Director: The average Californian uses about 1,500 gallons per person per day. About half of that is related to the consumption of meat and dairy products. So, meat and dairy products are incredibly water-intensive, in part because the animals are using very water-intensive grains. That’s what they eat. And so, all of the water embedded in the grain and that the animal eats essentially is considered part of the virtual water footprint of that product.
Andersen: I found out that one quarter-pound hamburger requires over 660 gallons of water to produce. Here, I’ve been taking these short showers trying to save water, and to find out just eating one hamburger is the equivalent of showering two entire months. So much attention is given to lowering our home water use, yet domestic water use is only 5% of what is consumed in the US versus 55% for animal agriculture. That’s because it takes upwards of 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. I went on the government’s Department of Water Resources’ Save Our Water campaign, where it outlines behavioral changes to help conserve our water. Like using low-flow shower heads, efficient toilets, water-saving appliances, and fix leaky faucets and sprinkler heads, but nothing about animal agriculture. When I added up all the government’s recommendations, I was saving 47 gallons a day. But still, that’s not even close to the 660 gallons of water for just one burger. I wanted to see if I could somehow talk with the government about this. I’m just calling to see if we could schedule an interview.
Man: [On phone] Yeah, that would be good. What does your schedule look like this afternoon or tomorrow afternoon? Um, tomorrow afternoon could be good.
Manucher Alemi, Ca Dept. Water Resources, Chief, Water Use and Efficiency Branch: For the urban environment, a lot of things that can be done indoors, um, using low-flow showerheads, low-flow faucets, efficient toilets, efficient, um, water-using appliances, all those are really good areas that can help quite a lot. But the biggest water savings is from outdoors. We have to be mindful of the way we use water. We have to use it as efficiently as possible. We have to protect its quality. And we have to be good stewards of the environment that depend on water. And checking the sprinklers. A lot of time, you get a lot of leaks and broken sprinklers and things like that that wastes water. Those are the areas that there is a lot of room for conservation.
Andersen: What kept on coming up a lot was animal agriculture. Can you comment on that at all, about how much that plays a role in water consumption and pollution?
That’s… I mean, that’s not my area.
Andersen: There’s one study that found that one pound of beef, 2,500 gallons of water.
Andersen: Eggs is 477 gallons of water, and cheese almost 900 gallons. I guess one simple… Why isn’t it on Save Our Water? Just… It’s kind of like if you went to someone’s house and my neighbor has a faucet dripping, and then you see this giant hose turned full-blast until 660 gallons of water are shooting out into the street, flooding the entire street. I think I would say, “Hey, turn that off, please.” Seems like it’s a huge thing that we could be doing by far more than anything else. Just, like, if that is really the case.
I think that the water footprint of animal husbandry is greater than other activities. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it.
Andersen: That would be really powerful. Rather than waiting till we’re in a drought, what do you think about just starting now, and say to whoever’s in charge of Save Our Water, “Hey, let’s start encouraging people to eat less meat now “because these studies are coming out”?
I don’t think that’ll happen.
I don’t think that’ll happen.
Because of the way government is set up here.
Andersen: That’s interesting, though. Why, though?
One is water management, and the other one is behavior change.
Andersen: Behavior of taking showers and not watering your lawn and doing all that, that’s behavior.
Andersen: Wow. Clearly, the government did not want to talk about this issue. Their inability to answer, along with the environmental organization’s silence on the topic of animal agriculture, made it seem something more was going on. I started doing more investigating on the impacts of livestock and found out the situation was actually worse than I’d thought. The transportation and energy sectors are understandably given a lot of attention because of the terrible impact carbon dioxide is having on our climate. But animal agriculture produces 65% of the world’s nitrous oxide, a gas with a global warming potential 296 times greater than CO2 per pound. Yet all we hear about is fossil fuels. Energy-related CO2 emissions are expected to increase 20% by the year 2040. Yet emissions from agriculture are predicted to increase 80% by 2050. This devastating figure is mostly due to a projected global increase in meat and dairy consumption. According to two environmental specialists at the World Bank Group, using the global standard for measuring greenhouse gases, concluded that animal agriculture was responsible for 51% of human-caused climate change when the loss of carbon sinks, respiration and methane are properly accounted for, which the UN study failed to address. But not only that, I found out that raising animals for food is responsible for 30% of the world’s water consumption, occupies up to 45% of the Earth’s land, is responsible for up to 91% of Brazilian Amazon destruction, is a leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, habitat destruction, and species extinction.
Yet the largest environmental groups that are supposed to be saving our world didn’t have this as their main focus? I had to speak with environmental organizations and find out why they weren’t addressing this issue. I sent off dozens of emails, made call after call, spent hours on hold. Days became weeks, and weeks became months, and for some reason, no one wanted to talk to me about this. So bizarre! I supported these organizations for so long, and now was met with silence. I was, however, able to connect with a handful of environmental authors and advocates that were willing to address this issue. I took my old, trusty van, Super Blue, out of retirement and hit the road.
Dr. Richard Oppenlander, Environmental Researcher, Author, Comfortably Unaware: So my calculations are that without using any gas or oil or fuel ever again from this day forward that we would still exceed our maximum carbon-equivalent, greenhouse gas emissions, now the 565 gigatons, by the year 2030, without the electricity sector even or energy sector even factored in the equation, all simply by raising and eating livestock.
If you reduce the amount of methane emissions, the level in the atmosphere goes down fairly quickly, within decades, as opposed to CO2, if you reduce the emissions to the atmosphere, you don’t really see a signal in the atmosphere for 100 years or so.
It’s an environmental disaster that’s being ignored by the very people who should be championing. Deforestation, land use, water scarcity, the destabilization of communities, world hunger… The list doesn’t stop.
Free-living animals, 10,000 years ago, made up 99% of the biomass. And human beings, we only made up 1% of the biomass. Today, only 10,000 years later, which is really just a fraction of time, we human beings and the animals that we own as property make up 98% of the biomass. And wild, free-living animals make up only 2%. We’ve basically completely stolen the world, the Earth from free-living animals to use for ourselves, in our cows and pigs and chicken, and factory-farmed fish, and the oceans have been even more devastated.
Concerned researchers of the loss of species agree that the primary cause of loss of species on our Earth that we’re witnessing is due to overgrazing and habitat loss from livestock production on land and by overfishing, which I call fishing in our oceans.
We’re in the middle of the largest mass extinction of species in 65 million years. The rainforest is being cut down at the rate of an acre per second. And the driving force behind all of this is animal agriculture. Cutting down the forests to graze animals and to grow soybeans. Genetically-engineered soybeans to feed to the cows and pigs and chickens and factory-farmed fish.
Ninety-one percent of the loss of rainforest in the Amazon area thus far, to date, 91% that’s been destroyed is due to raising livestock.
The leading cause of environmental destruction is animal agriculture.
Andersen: I just couldn’t understand why the world’s largest environmental organizations were not addressing this when their entire mission is to help protect the environment.
That’s the thing, too, is they say, “Use less coal, ride your bike.” -What about “eat less meat”?
Yeah. I think they focus-grouped it, and it’s a political loser. In terms of… Yeah, because they’re membership organizations, a lot of them. They’re looking to maximize the number of people making contributions. And if they get identified as being anti-meat or challenging people on their everyday habits, that’s something that’s so dear to people, that it will hurt with their fundraising.
They do not want to address the primary driving cause of environmental devastation, which is animal agriculture, because they’re businesses. And they want to make sure that they have a reliable source of funding.
I had an invite to a meeting with Al Gore, some years ago, now, and made these methane arguments, and he was really push-back. That’s just his argument. “It’s hard enough to get people to think about CO2. “Don’t confuse them.”
I think that the problem with a lot of organizations that are focused and have a laser focus don’t go off message because they don’t want to piss off another whole group of people that will make their lives difficult.
If you listen to the majority of the major environmental organizations, they’re not telling you to do much, besides live your life the way you’ve been living it, but change a light bulb from time to time, drive less, use less plastic, recycle more… It’s better for their fundraising and better for their profile to create a victim-and-perpetrator sort of plotline. It’s like when we talk about the fact that when we have a dysfunctional family and the father’s an alcoholic, that’s the one thing no one talks about. Everybody goes around that, and yet it’s the one thing that’s causing the devastation in the relationships in the family, because no one wants to talk about it.
How could these organizations not know? The issue is right in front of them. It’s unmistakable at this point. And just like these organizations, they’re falling over themselves to show the general public that climate change is human-caused. And in doing so, they completely fail to see what’s right in front of them. That animal agriculture, raising and killing animals for food, is really what’s killing the planet.
Andersen: That was it. No more emails, no more phone calls. I had enough. I realized if I wanted answers, I would have to go to these organizations’ headquarters in person.
Andersen: Hi, how’s it going?
Andersen: We’re doing a full-length feature documentary, and it’s on sustainability and how animal agriculture plays a role. And we’re seeing if we could talk to David Barre.
Woman: David Barre? Okay.
Andersen: Barre. Yeah.
Woman: Do you have an appointment with him?
Andersen: Uh, we’ve been trying for… It’s almost two months, and we haven’t even had one receptive email or anything.
Sure. -So, just seeing if -we could just set something up.
Uh… Let me… So, let me just…
Andersen: They sent out their PR person instead. She refused to be filmed and told us to turn off the camera, but promised someone from their rainforest, ocean and climate change departments would all speak with us, finally. Next stop was to give Sierra Club a visit. Turns out, they were a bit more receptive to me showing up at their doorstep.
Hey, how’s it going?
Andersen: With the climate change, what’s the leading cause of that? Well, it’s basically burning too many fossil fuels. Uh… So, coal, natural gas, oil, tar sands, oil shale. All these new exotic fuels that are kind of hybrids between them. But that’s basically what is loading up the atmosphere, so we have this greenhouse effect where the heat is getting trapped, and the temperatures are soaring at a rate that has never existed in the history of the Earth.
Andersen: And what about livestock and animal agriculture? Uh… Well, what about it? I mean… Do you wanna…
Andersen: We’re doing this research. We… A couple of the UN reports say livestock accounts for more than all transportation put together. A recent 2009 Worldwatch report, livestock causes 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions.
Yeah, well, um… It is a big issue, and we need to address that as well. But there’s just so many different potential sources of methane and carbon emissions.
Andersen: If the number one leading cause is animal agriculture and meat consumption, then doesn’t that need to be the number one focus, if not the number two?
Well, that’s your assessment. Our assessment is different.
Andersen: That was bizarre. So, Greenpeace got back to me today, and said, [Reading] “It was great to meet with you yesterday. “I’ve spoken with various people here at Greenpeace about your request, “but I’m afraid we’re not going to be able to help this time. “Thanks again, and we wish you the best of luck.”
Greenpeace’s response reminded me of the statistic that 116,000 pounds of farm animal excrement is produced every second in the United States alone. That is enough waste per year to cover every square foot of San Francisco, New York City, Tokyo, Paris, New Delhi, Berlin, Hong Kong, London, Rio de Janeiro, Delaware, Bali, Costa Rica, and Denmark combined. [All Screaming]
Livestock operations on land has caused, or created, more than 500 nitrogen-flooded dead zones around the world in our oceans, comprise more than 95,000 square miles of areas completely devoid of life. So, any meaningful discussion about the state of our oceans has to always begin by frank discussions about land-based animal agriculture, which is not what our conservation groups, Oceana being the largest one in the world right now, the most influential, as well as others… That’s not what is at the apex of their discussions.
Andersen: I went on my favorite ocean-protection organization’s website, Surfrider Foundation, to see what they were doing about this. Mostly what I found were campaigns about plastic bags and trash, but nothing about animal agriculture. What is the number one coastal water quality-issue polluter? [Stammers]
Yeah. I mean, a lot of it… There’s a… It’s actually… I call it… We call it the “toxic cocktail.” Because it really is this sort of diffused source. So it’s, um, heavy metal from tires and brakes and cars, heavy metals… It is these herbicides and pesticides. It’s kind of picking up everything we leave on the ground and collecting it together and pushing it out into the ocean. So, it’s hard to actually target one thing.
When we were doing our research on this particular one, and run-off… And just increasingly as we’re interviewing more and more people, it keeps coming up. Animal agriculture, as being… And we read animal agriculture as being the number one water polluter. Considerably, by more than any other…
Yeah, that’s interesting. I guess it depends on the regions that you focus on. Like the urban areas, where we are here in Southern California, we don’t see that because there’s not a lot of agricultural farms. But if you look in the Mid-Atlantic, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, that region, I know there’s a lot of poultry farms and a lot of hog farms, and it’s a huge waste issue.
Andersen: I was surprised that not only did they not focus on farm run-off, but they also didn’t mention any campaigns about how our oceans are in near collapse. The UN reported that three-quarters of the world’s fisheries are overexploited, fully exploited, or significantly depleted due to overfishing. The oceans are under siege like never before, and marine environments are in trouble. And if we don’t wake up and do something about it, we’re gonna see fishless oceans by the year 2048. That’s the prediction from scientists.
The fact that when people look at fishing, sometimes they’re only looking at the fact of the animals who are actually consumed by humans, so we’re not necessarily looking at all the animals who are caught in the drift nets, all the other animals who are killed in the industry.
Susan Hartland: We’re at over 28 billion animals were pulled out of the ocean last year. They’re not ever given a chance to recover. They can’t recover, they don’t multiply that quickly. They don’t come back. We’re not giving them an opportunity.
Andersen: The way fishing is done today, to feed the demand for 90 million tons of fish is primarily through massive fish nets. For every single pound of fish caught, there is up to five pounds of untargeted species trapped, such as dolphins, whales, sea turtles, and sharks, known as “bi-kill.” If we’re to imagine this same sort of practice happening on the African savanna, targeting gazelle, but in the process, scooping up every single lion, giraffe, ostrich and elephant, nobody would stand for it. Yet, this is what is happening in our oceans every single day.
Dr. Oppenlander: Between 40 and 50 million sharks each year are killed in fishing lines and fishing nets as bi-kill. Then their fins might be cut off or not cut off, but they’re caught initially as bi-kill, and it’s from fishing. It’s from fishing in a sustainable manner, in many cases, for fish that are labeled “sustainable” by, for instance, Oceana and the sustainable-certified organizations. So my thought is, “Why would we want to stop at banning shark-fin soup “if you’re concerned about sharks?” Which all these organizations are, and most of the public at large is now. If we really are concerned about sharks, we would ban fishing.
Andersen: I went on the world’s largest ocean-conservation group’s website, Oceana, to see what they were doing about this. On their site, along with a TED Talk by CEO Andy Sharpless, I was astounded to read they actually recommend that one of the best ways to help fish is to eat fish. With the world’s fish population in near-collapse, this seems like saying the best way to help endangered pandas is to eat pandas. I couldn’t understand how Oceana could say we could remove close to 100 million tons of fish per year, and that could somehow be sustainable and good for our oceans.
Dr. Oppenlander: Many of the species that are nearing extinction have done so are being ravaged and becoming nearly extinct in a declining fashion, and haven’t recovered on the watch of Oceana and on the watch of Marine Stewardship Council, and very much on the watch of Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, which, I mention in one of my lectures, they’re aptly named because that’s what they’re doing. They’re watching this happen instead of aggressively halting it. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, roughly three-quarters of all the fisheries out there are either fully exploited or overexploited. So there’s really not a whole lot of fish stocks out there that you might consider at healthy levels for the ecosystem.
Andersen: Watching Andy’s TED Talk about feeding the world… In 1988, fish catch, as you mention, peaked at 85 million tons. How is it possible that we can sustainably catch 100 million tons by 2050 regardless if it’s in a farm or if it’s in the ocean? If for every pound of fish you’re taking out, you’re essentially taking out five pounds of wild fish, no matter whether it’s a pond or it’s in the ocean, how can that be sustainable? The ultimate question, right, is that there is a tremendous amount of natural production that is basically coming out of the oceans all the time. So we have a massive amount of upwelling from our ocean conveyer belt that’s bringing up ancient, 1,000-year-old nutrients, and our ecosystems are turning that into fish. Yes, they’re eating each other, and you’re losing some of that production every step up in the food chain, but you get more every year. You can fish and take some out, and next year, there will be more. And if we do that right, without ultimately hitting the fundamental driver, it’s sort of like living off the interest, right? As long as you don’t bring your principal down, right… If you’re investing in something, as long as you’re not hitting into that principal and your principal remains high, you could potentially live off the interest forever. And that’s the basic idea with fish.
Andersen: With our population right now, what we’re doing, if it’s 75% depleted, the fish is now depleted. And it’s a good analogy with money. We’re not living off our interest, we’re in extreme debt. And if our population, who’s trying to live as a family on the same amount of money,
and it’s increasing 35%
[Chuckles] to 9 billion people… Right.
Andersen: Isn’t it just, “Hey, we gotta stop spending money”?
“We need to stop eating fish.” Well, if you could bring the principal back. Fishing of any type is depleting not only the species, but you get into this serial depletion where one fish species will be minimized and the fishing industry for that fishery will move onto the next species. It’s called serial depletion. It’s aptly named. In the process… So the fish are being lost. Not only the species is being lost, but the next in line is being lost. And then the mechanism is still extremely destructive. So they’re losing the fish species, but it needs to be kept in mind they’re also destroying habitat. I think they came up with this term “sustainable fishing” to make ourselves feel good about eating fish and continuing to take fish out of the oceans, when, in fact, really, it’s Sea Shepherd’s position that there is no such thing as sustainable fishing. Seafood is not a sustainable protein source for the feeding of the planet. For the people on the planet, it’s just not. People don’t wanna hear it. Because that makes them feel like they have to take action, they have to stop doing something, and a lot of people don’t want to. And people don’t wanna… They don’t want to put it out there, because it’s uncomfortable. They don’t want to propose to tell people what to do. But we’re at a point where we all have to be cognizant. And we have to realize and we have to take an action. Our founder, Captain Watson, likes to say, “If the oceans die, we die.” That’s not a tag line. That’s the truth.
Andersen: Perhaps the only other ecosystem that is being destroyed at such a rapid rate are the world’s rainforests. Our global rainforests are essentially the planet’s lungs. They breathe in CO2 and exhale oxygen. An acre of rainforest is cleared every second. And the leading cause is to graze animals and grow their feed crops. That is essentially an entire football field cleared every single second. And it is estimated that every day, close to 100 plant, animal, and insect species are lost due to rainforest destruction. [Mooing]
Andersen: What is the absolute leading cause of rainforest destruction? Human intervention into rainforests is the leading cause. And so, it’s either for logging or it’s for agribusiness. And that’s when you’re looking at the top global drivers, it will vary a bit by the rainforest that you’re talking about. But the way that we’re choosing to use these natural resources on a large industrial scale is the leading driver.
Andersen: When I went on Rainforest Action Network’s website, I couldn’t believe I didn’t see anything about cattle. But I did see they had a large campaign against palm oil. Palm oil plantations are causing tremendous deforestation in the Indonesian rainforest. It is estimated that palm oil is responsible for 26 million acres being cleared. Though, compared to livestock and their feed crops, they were responsible for 136 million acres of rainforest lost to date. But on their website, I was shocked to find cattle was not included as one of their four main key issues. Instead they focused on palm, pulp and paper, coal, and tar sands? How could they not have the leading cause of rainforest destruction? I had to wonder, “Why focus on fossil fuels and not cattle?”
Andersen: Is it more fossil fuels, or is it more animal agriculture? I don’t know why we would ever do a one-or-the-other.
Andersen: I’m just wondering, what more is it? I don’t necessarily know what it is.
Andersen: Could the executive director of one of the world’s largest rainforest protection groups honestly not know what was going on? Or even worse, were they hiding it on purpose? And if so, why? I immediately went to Amazon Watch to see if they would say what the leading cause of rainforest destruction truly is. The most biologically and culturally diverse place on the planet is under massive attack right now. The Amazon rainforest itself could be gone in the matter of the next 10 years.
Andersen: What is the leading cause of rainforest destruction? The leading cause [Exhales] of rainforest destruction, um… I would say, well, just to put it in the context of what Amazon Watch works on, um, there’s many, many drivers of deforestation, as we call them. Many different reasons and ways that rainforests are destroyed. The ones that cause the most damage and are the most widespread are mega projects, such as oil and gas pipelines, such as mining projects, such as mega dam projects. We’re not talking about…
Andersen: I felt like I was going in circles with all these groups. As if I were stuck in some strange cowspiracy twilight zone where no one could talk about cows. I couldn’t believe these organizations just wouldn’t say what the leading cause of rainforest destruction truly is. I had to ask one more time. It’s hard to say what is a leading cause of deforestation of the Amazon because they’re all destructive, oil and gas, mining, dams, agriculture. But in terms of land use, in terms of the amount of land that, um, is destroyed by… Um… When we talk about, in comparison, all those different causes of deforestation, what is causing the most trees to fall, for example, um, I think it would definitely be agriculture. Unfortunately one of the biggest causes of deforestation, um, definitely in the Brazilian Amazon, is agribusiness. Cattle grazing and soy production in particular.
Andersen: This is really what’s going on.
Andersen: Why do you think no one at Greenpeace, or no one’s really saying the whole story? The whole story about the main cause of deforestation?
Andersen: Yeah. I think you’ve brought up some really good points about, “Why isn’t anybody doing anything about this?” And I think in Brazil, in particular, I think when we look at what happened after the Forest Code was passed, and people who were standing up against the lobbyists and the interests, the special interests, the cattle industry, the agribusiness industry, what was happening to them. A lot of people who were speaking out got killed. If you look at José Carlos, you look at Claudio… There’s people who were putting themselves out there and saying cattle ranching is destroying the Amazon. A lot of those people who are really putting themselves out there. And look at Dorothy Stang, the nun who lived out in Pará who was killed. A lot of people will speak up, but a lot of people just keep their mouths shut ’cause they don’t wanna be the next one with the bullet to their head.
Andersen: Sister Dorothy Stang was a US-born nun living in the heart of the Brazilian rainforest. Her life’s work was to protect the Amazon. She spoke out openly against the destruction of rainforest from cattle ranching for years. Walking home one night, she was brutally gunned down -at point-blank range [GUNSHOT] by a hired gun from the cattle industry.
Sister Dorothy Stang [1931-2005]
US American born nun killed for speaking out against cattle ranching
Over 1,100 activists have been killed in the last 20 years in Brazil
After Greenpeace’s initial denial for an interview, I wrote again, begging they reconsider. Greenpeace got back again, and said again, “I’m afraid we’ve explored the options here in terms of helping you, “and are not going to be able to be involved this time. “You mentioned you were also speaking to Oceana. “I’m sure they’ll be able to give you some great quotes about ocean-related issues. “Thanks again for thinking of us.” Unbelievable. With Greenpeace unwilling to be interviewed, I had to find a different avenue for answers. There’s something really fishy going on over there. Fortunately, l found a former Greenpeace Board of Director who now speaks openly about the industry. Environmental organizations, like other organizations, are not telling you the truth about what the world needs from us as a species. It’s so frustrating when the information is right before their eyes. It’s documented in peer-reviewed papers and journals. It’s there for everybody to see. But the environmental organizations are refusing to act. Nowhere do you find in their policies and nowhere do you find in the Greenpeace mission that diet is important, that animal agriculture is the problem. They are refusing, like other environmental organizations, to look at the issue. The environmental community is failing us and they’re failing ecosystems. And it’s so frustrating to see them do this. “NRDC, the Earth’s best defense.” All right, so here they actually do have a few things on animal agriculture. The leading cause of environmental degradation is too much pollution and too many engines churning too fast in too many places around the globe.
Andersen: Lately, in 2009, Worldwatch reported that livestock causes 51% of greenhouse gas emissions, and transportation’s around 13%. And on the low end, the UN was around 18% to 30%, which is more than all transportation all put together.
Internationally? Or nationally?
Andersen: The entire globe. Yeah. I think energy production and transportation are still major sources, so I think, um… I guess I’m not gonna comment on that because I’m not familiar with those numbers. So it’s… [Chuckles] Don’t quote me on this, but that’s cow farts. That’s, I think, what that is.
[Laughs] I think that’s cow farts. [Woman laughing] [Laughing]
Andersen: Well, that’s part of the story. Methane production from cows and other livestock’s flatulence is a major contributor. But mostly, it is due to deforestation and the waste they produce, which is 130 times more waste than the entire human population. Virtually all without the benefit of any waste treatment. NRDC absolutely, as I said, has a big food program. In fact, every year we do the Growing Green Awards, and we recognize food innovators. And this last year, one of the awardees was a sustainable pork producer, actually, that doesn’t use any antibiotics. And also the antibiotic use that industrial food production in the United States uses right now is… We’re giving… The majority of antibiotics in the United States are administered to healthy livestock.
Andersen: I wanted to visit one of these sustainable farms. I found the Markegard Grass-Fed beef farm on the lush, misty California coast. I met Erik and Doniga Markegard and their four children.
Doniga: Lea and Larry are usually up at 6:00 and out milking the cows, slopping the hogs. All together, we graze about 4,500 acres. And this is our home ranch. And this is 952 acres of that. On average, it’s about one cow, or a cow and a calf, per every 10 acres. We would produce annually roughly 80,000 pounds of finished, plate-ready meat. We keep about 10 pigs in roughly a 50-acre area, and we move them around in 10-acre pastures. Some people think that pigs are dirty and gross, but I really like them. They know people, and they’ll be friends and really nice. And they could be like your best friend, or could be like a sister. See? They know you when you get to know them.
Lea: I shouldn’t be bonding, but we have to have nice pigs. Why shouldn’t you bond with them? Well, because they’re gonna turn into bacon. Oh. These pigs are about seven months old now. That’s it? Wow. So these bigger ones are getting ready to be killed. Those two smaller ones there, they could grow up a few more months. I love animals. And I… That’s why I’m in the meat business. It’s what more of society needs to see, is that that packaged piece of meat is a living animal. [Chuckles] Living and breathing creature that… Yeah, it’s hard, it’s hard. But like what Doniga said earlier, we do it because we love them.
Andersen: With the land use, there’s anywhere between… With industrial, as low as 2 to 2.5 acres per cow, all the way up to some, depending… It’s not as lush as this, up to 35 acres. Yeah, we have a ranch in South Dakota that’s 50 acres.
Andersen: Fifty acres per… [Chuckling] Yeah, it’s about 50 acres, yeah.
Andersen: And why is that? -Uh… Same thing. It was just farmed and robbed of all the nitrogen. -The land was abused. -It’s also seasonal, right? And it’s also seasonal.
Andersen: Is it possible and is it practical for the whole world to say, “Have grass-fed cattle”? Say Brazil, where supposedly 80% of the rainforest was destroyed for cattle. What are your thoughts on that? They shouldn’t be eating beef. If their environment wasn’t designed to raise beef, -then they shouldn’t be eating it. -Yeah.
Andersen: How do you offset the carbon footprint of livestock? Uh… We don’t feel like livestock have a carbon footprint.
Andersen: I left there feeling confused. And as far as grass-fed beef not having a carbon footprint, it actually sounded like it could make sense, until I added up the numbers on land use and population. If we’re to use the Markegard model of raising animals, which requires 4,500 acres producing 80,000 pounds of meat, the average American eats 209 pounds of meat per year. If that was all grass-fed beef, only 382 people could be fed on their land. That equates to 11.7 acres per person times 314 million Americans, which equals 3.7 billion acres of grazing land. Unfortunately, there are only 1.9 billion acres in the US’s lower 48 states. Currently nearly half of all United States’ land is already dedicated to animal agriculture. If we’re to switch over to grass-fed beef, it would require clearing every square inch of the United States, up into Canada, all of Central America, and well into South America. And this is just to feed the United States’ demand on meat. But that figure doesn’t even take into consideration that much of that land isn’t suited to graze livestock. We would have to convert all mountain ranges to grassland, clear ancient forests and national parks to grazing, and demolish every city just to make room to graze cows. Just like Brazil, the United States isn’t suited to meet the demands for meat. It takes 23 months for a grass-fed animal to grow to the point, to the size and age that it’s slaughtered, whereas a grain-fed takes 15 months. So that’s an additional eight months of water use, land use, feed, waste, and in terms of a carbon footprint, that’s a huge difference.
Andersen: Turns out, due to land use, grass-fed beef is more unsustainable than even factory farming. I had to come to terms with the fact there was no way to sustainably raise enough animals to feed the world’s current demand on meat, and had my doubts on dairy as well. But I did want to talk with a premier organic dairy company to see if they believed their product was sustainable for the world’s population. It requires a lot of inputs to produce milk. The feed, the water, the land. It does. And it may not be practical to expect that there can be enough dairy production produced in a sustainable way to feed the entire world. I just don’t think that that’s necessarily a given. I think it’s maybe too much to expect that the world can be fed with dairy in a sustainable way. I don’t know the answer, but common sense would say that’s a long shot.
Andersen: I was shocked to hear such an honest answer. If this is what the dairy CEO would say, I wondered what the farmer would claim. Based on their marketing, it seemed their farms were an oasis for cows. It was not what I expected. [Air hissing] Typically, a cow will eat 140 to 150 pounds of feed a day.
Andersen: A hundred and… A hundred and forty to 150 pounds of feed every day. And then she’s also gonna drink between 30 and 40 gallons of water.
Andersen: Oh, my Lord.
Taylor: Probably go through about probably 20 tons per week.
Andersen: Twenty tons of…
Taylor: Twenty tons of grain per week.
Taylor: Primarily for our milking cows, so about 250 cows. Yeah, so the biggest part of sustainability, to me, the number one thing on the list should be profitability. So how the process completely works, from start to finish, is the cow needs to have a baby in order to give milk. And so she’ll have her baby, that baby’s gonna stay with the mother for at least two days. The babies will go off to our calf-raising facility, so they have an individual hutch that they’ll be raised in. Since we’re a dairy, it’s only the girl cows that give us milk. So the boys, on typical dairies, they’re sold off to beef-raising facilities. But we do keep approximately half, and we raise them for two years and sell them as organic grass-fed beef. So all dairy cows eventually go to the beef industry? Mmm-hmm.
Taylor: At some point in time, she’s really gonna drop off. And so you have to make a business decision at that point. Are you gonna keep investing in her to give milk, or are you gonna sell her off again to another dairy, or into the beef industry? There’s very few places on this planet that have this type of environment. But the demand on dairy-based protein in the world is only gonna increase. And there’s not enough land on the planet to do this type of dairying around the world. It’s just… The environment is not gonna be that way. The land’s not there. So, I guess on a global scale, the conclusion would be dairy’s not sustainable. Unless we start digging up houses and putting pastures back. [Chuckles] And the only way to start digging up houses and development is to have less people. But we only know that the population is gonna continue to grow. Um… So that means more commercial dairying, I’m sure. Either that, or somehow lower demand by the people? Yeah, or some other product is gonna take its place. We see there’s all sorts of soy milks and almond milk and a lot of other products that are coming out, and different blends where you take juices and proteins. And I think you’ll see a lot more of that.
Andersen: He was right. How could cow’s milk be sustainable? For in one gallon of milk, it takes upwards of 1,000 gallons of water to produce. Almost a third of the planet’s land is becoming desert, with a vast majority due to livestock grazing. Doing research on grass-fed livestock, I kept coming across the work of Allan Savory. Savory claims that the best way to reverse this desertification is to actually graze more animals. This reminded me of Oceana saying, “The best way to help fish is to eat fish.” This is the same man, during the 1950s, working as a research officer for the game department of what is now Zimbabwe, came up with a theory that actually elephants were the cause of desertification there. And his solution was convincing the government to kill 40,000 elephants. Yet, after 14 years of relentless slaughter, the conditions only got worse. His theory was wrong. The culling finally ended, but not until tens of thousands of elephants and their families were killed. This is not someone I would ever take ecological advice from. It turns out, the cattle industry is having the same effect on wildlife in the United States.
Denize Bolbol: The government has been rounding up horses en masse, and we now have more wild horses and burros in government holding facilities, 50,000 wild horses and burros in government holding facilities, than we have free on the range. Basically, you have ranchers who get to graze on our public lands for a fraction of the going rate. So they’re getting this huge tax subsidy that’s about one-fifteenth of the going rate. And what the Bureau of Land Management has to do is say, “How much forage and water is on the land?” And then they divvy it up. They give so much to the cows, so much to “wildlife,” and so much to the wild horses and burros. And what we see is the lion’s share of the forage and water is going to the livestock industry. And then they scapegoat the horses and burros and say, “There are too many horses and burros. Let’s remove them.” I always tell people that wild horses and burros are just one of the victims of the management of our public lands for livestock because we also see the predator killing going on. We know wolves are now being targeted by ranchers, to get rid of wolves. USDA has aircraft, and all they do is aerial gunning of predators. So, all a rancher does is call up and say, “I’ve got coyote here.” They’ll come over and they’ll shoot the coyote, or they’ll shoot the mountain lion, or they’ll shoot the bobcat. And this is all for ranching. In Washington state, after cattle were found to be attacked on public lands, where they were grazing under permit, Washington state decided to kill the entire Wedge pack of wolves. And those wolves were not introduced. They had in-migrated from Canada, but they’re no longer there.
Bolbol: It starts at the local level, with the Bureau of Land Managements, but then it goes all the way to Congress. And we see Congress, sitting there, willing to allow this type of mismanagement of our public lands to continue. It is the insistence of and the lobbying power of the animal agriculture industry that continues to see wolves killed, continues to see an insistence that predators be maintained at a low level that does not benefit ecosystems. I’ve seen so many pieces of land. I’ve looked at so many environmental assessments from the Bureau of Land Management where they say the range lands are not meeting standards. And they say, straight-up, livestock grazing is a cause for not meeting range standards. And yet, they will continue to allow livestock grazing. They’re at the very core of making sure that cougars are treed by hounds, and that wolf packs are run down, and that hunting seasons are opened up year-round, and that traps are set so that they can suffer.
Bolbol: If anyone cares about wild horses and wildlife and public lands and the environment, you can’t ignore the impact, the negative impact, that livestock grazing is having on our public lands in the West.
David Simon: I’ve added up the costs of animal food production that the producers don’t actually bear themselves. These are the hidden costs, or the externalized costs, that they impose on society. And those are in categories like health care, environmental damage, subsidies, damage to fisheries, and even cruelty. If you take those externalized costs, which are about $414 billion… If the meat and dairy industries were required to internalize those costs, if they had to bear those costs themselves, the costs of the retail prices of meat and dairy would skyrocket. So a $5 carton of eggs would go to $13. A $4 Big Mac would go to $11. Whether you eat meat or not, whether you’re an omnivore or an herbivore, you are paying part of the costs of somebody else’s consumption. So that when somebody goes into a McDonald’s and buys a Big Mac for $4, there’s another $7 of costs that’s imposed on society. I’m paying that. You’re paying that, whether you eat meat or not. When you really look at who’s benefiting, and who lobbied for this system of agriculture, it’s the largest food producers in the country and the largest meat producers. And once they become so large and wealthy, then they can dictate the federal policies around producing food because they have so much political power.
Andersen: I knew I needed to talk to an animal agriculture lobby group to see what they had to say. If they could silence the government, are they influencing and possibly have connections to these environmental groups as well? Animal Agriculture Alliance, one of the biggest livestock lobby groups in America, has agreed to an interview. Greenpeace won’t give us an interview, but Animal Agriculture Alliance has agreed to an interview. Now, that… Now, that is saying something. People hear the word GMOs, and that’s a really scary term. And again, I think Agriculture’s struggled to explain what that means, but in reality, what we’ve done is to use technology to make advancements in how we raise crops and how we raise animals. We’re not gonna feed the world going back to how it was 100 years ago where all the animals were pasture-fed. We didn’t just move animals inside and just implement these large vertically-integrated systems because of sustainability. It certainly reduces the environmental impact while improving animal well-being and food safety.
Andersen: So you’re saying that animals like it just as much being inside… Say the chickens and the cows like being just as much inside as pasture grass-fed? In a lot of cases, it’s been a significant improvement in their well-being, just in terms of the amount of care they can get, individualized care.
Andersen: Does the meat and dairy industry ever support or donate to environmental non-profits? I don’t know that I would want to comment on that.
Kay Smith: Yeah, l… I don’t… I don’t know. [Chuckles]
Smith: I don’t know that we would know what they donate to or don’t donate to.
Andersen: Does meat and dairy industry ever support or donate to, say, Greenpeace? Again, I don’t know that I would feel comfortable…
Woman: [On phone] Hey, sorry we didn’t get back to you earlier. I have some bad news. Unfortunately, we are no longer able to fund your film project. We had a meeting, and due to the growing controversial subject matter, we have some concerns and have to pull out.
Andersen: Why was this subject so controversial? The first person I could think to speak with was Howard Lyman, who had been sued by cattlemen for simply speaking the truth about animal agriculture on The Oprah Winfrey Show. I was born on the largest dairy farm in the state of Montana in 1938. Uh… Grew up my entire life on a livestock farm. Went to Montana State University, got a degree in agriculture. Came back and started a mega agriculture endeavor where I had 10,000 acres of crop, 7,000 head of cattle, and about 30 employees, so… I spent 45 years of my life in animal agriculture, and so, I’ve been there, done that. When I was on The Oprah Show, we had the food disparagement law. Now, the food disparagement law, in my opinion, was unconstitutional, but what it basically said, that it was against the law to say something you knew to be false about a perishable commodity. I didn’t say anything on The Oprah Show I thought to be false. I went there and told the truth. Now, it took five years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to end up extricating myself from the suits from the cattle industry. But if I was to go on The Oprah Show today, say exactly the same thing today that I said back then, I would be guilty. And for me, when they were talking about the food disparagement law, it was the fact of whether I told the truth or not. You can go today and tell the truth, and you will be guilty, because if you cause a disruption in the profits of the animal industry, you’re guilty under the Patriot Act.
Andersen: Do you think there should be any concern of us making this documentary? Of course. If you don’t realize right now that you’re putting your neck on the chopping block, [Clears throat] you better take that camera and throw it away.
Potter: The animal agriculture industry is one of the most powerful industries on the planet. I think most people in this country are aware of the influence of money and industry on politics, and we really see that clearly on display with this industry in particular. Most people would be shocked to learn that animal rights and environmental activists are the number one domestic terrorism threat according to the FBI.
Andersen: And why is that? -It’s a difficult question to answer, why these groups are at the top of the FBI’s priorities. I think a big part of it is that they, more than really any other social movements today, are directly threatening corporate profits. When we try to find out how factory farms and how animal agriculture is polluting the environment, they try to claim exemptions to that information, either under national security terms or public safety. Trademark issues, it’s a business secret. We’ve seen all these attempts to keep people in the dark about what they’re actually doing. One of the largest industries on the planet, with the biggest environmental impact, trying to keep us in the dark about how it’s operating. Through the Freedom of Information Act, we obtained documents from the counter-terrorism unit that show they’re monitoring my lectures, media interviews like this one, my website, my book.
Andersen: Are we at risk filming this and showing it? You’re going up against people that have massive legal resources. It’s just overwhelming, the amount of money at their disposal. And you have nothing. And I think that fear is a big part of the tactic as well.
Andersen: Will was right. I was scared. When I learned about the activists being killed in Brazil, I was disturbed, but I felt removed. But to learn about American activists and journalists being targeted by the industry and FBI? My funding being dropped? I was genuinely worried and it hit close to home. Was this why no one was willing to talk about the issue? I decided to take precautionary measures with all the footage I shot. I was beyond frightened to imagine what could possibly happen if I pursued this subject any further. It seemed the only decision to make was to put down the cameras and walk away. But then I realized this issue was way bigger than any personal concern I could ever have for myself. This was about all life on Earth hanging in the balance of our actions. Now you either live for something, or die for nothing. And I actually had no choice all along. I decided then to surrender not to fear from the secret, but rather to a cause towards truth. I couldn’t be like these environmental organizations and sit silently while the planet was being eaten alive right in front of our eyes. I had to stand up and continue on. Some people would say the problem isn’t really animal agriculture, but actually human overpopulation. In 1812, there were one billion people on the planet. In 1912, there were 1.5 billion. Then, just 100 years later, our population exploded to seven billion humans. This number is rightly given a great deal of attention, but an even more important figure when determining world population is the world’s 70 billion farm animals humans raise. The human population drinks 5.2 billion gallons of water every day and eats 21 billion pounds of food. But just the world’s 1.5 billion cows alone drink 45 billion gallons of water every day and eat 135 billion pounds of food. This isn’t so much a human population issue. It’s a human-eating-animals population issue. Environmental organizations not addressing this is like health organizations trying to stop lung cancer without addressing cigarette smoking. But instead of secondhand smoking, it’s secondhand eating, which affects the entire planet. We have roughly a billion people starving every single day. Worldwide, 50% of the grain and legumes that we’re growing we’re feeding to animals. So they’re eating huge amounts of grain and legumes. And in the United States, it’s more like closer to 70%, 80%, depending on which grain it is. About 90% of the soybeans. Eighty-two percent of the world’s starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals in the livestock systems that are killed and eaten by more well-off individuals in developed countries, such as the US, UK, and in Europe. The fact of it is that we could feed every human being on the planet today an adequate diet if we did no more than take the feed that we’re feeding to animals and actually turn it into food for humans. And so somebody trying to justify GMOs, that’s like trying to give a drowning man a drink of water. You can produce, on average, 15 times more protein from plant-based sources than from meat on any given area of land, whether, uh, it’s… Using the same type of land, whether it’s a very fertile area in one area of the world, or it’s an area that’s depleted. If we would reduce the amount of meat we’re eating, and dairy and eggs, we could allow all these mono-cropped fields of genetically-engineered corn and soybeans to revert back to forest again, to be habitat for animals. Anytime somebody tells you that we can’t grow food for humans on the land that we’re growing feed for animals… This is somebody that is mocking the number one crop out in California. The fact of it is if you can grow corn to stuff down the throat of an animal, you can actually grow corn and feed it to a human. You encourage people to eat less meat, and for the tremendous resources required and the toll on the environment.
And on the animals.
Andersen: And on the animals. And the workers in the system. And it’s a brutal system at every level.
Andersen: As the world population continues to grow to almost nine billion people, do you foresee someday that we might just completely have to stop eating meat altogether? I don’t know that we’ll completely stop. I think that the amount of meat-eating will decline. There’s no way to support nine ounces per person per day, which is what Americans are eating now. If the Chinese alone decide they wanna eat that much… And they’ve decided they wanna eat that much. We just can’t… We don’t have enough world to produce the grain to generate that much meat. I think a plant-based diet is the most sustainable. What do you recommend to see for nine billion people who can eat for the planet to not only sustain, but to thrive? Would you throw out a number… An ounce, one ounce? -Oh, per meat?
Andersen: And including dairy. Yeah, I don’t think… I don’t know enough. But, yeah, it would be on the order of a couple ounces a week. You know, it’s not gonna be the way we’re eating it now. We’re gorging on meat. We’re eating huge amounts. -Does that include cheese, too?
Like, two ounces total?
Yeah, cheese and milk.
Andersen: Only two ounces a week seem like nothing. People could probably raise that in their own backyard. Maybe backyard farming was a sustainable solution.
Bill Phillips: I have 42 ducks. I started off with three ducks three years ago. And then those burdened into a population. I buy a 75-pound bag of seed and that seed bag will last me, right now, about two weeks. The ducks now that we’re gonna be culling are about two years old. When you’re living with them, they get used to you. They’re not intimidated or whatever. And, so they make all their vocal sounds, like natural. [Quacking]
Phillips: Slow down. Easy, easy, easy, easy. Okay. No, we’re gonna keep you. Ron, these two go first. Being smart-wise? Compared to a chicken, they’re probably the same.
Child: That one’s nice, see?
Phillips: Yeah, he is.
Child: That one goes. That one doesn’t.
Phillips: All righty. Okay. Right there. That’s gonna be a little gruesome.
Child: How could that still be alive?
Child: How could that still be alive?
Phillips: They’re not. That’s nerves. A nerve reaction.
Phillips: Five years old or something like that I think it was, the first time my dad came out and made us watch as we did rabbits. And we’d raise, probably, a couple dozen rabbits each year. And then we would take those rabbits and skin them, and clean them up and keep them for food. As a young kid, I was kind of… I don’t want to say it was hard, but it was kind of, from my memory… Because some of the rabbits I had named. [Chuckles] So I was kind of like going… [Grimages] But after doing it a couple times, you kind of just learned it’s just something that has to be done.
Phillips: Not the fingers.
[Ax bangs on wood]
Andersen: I just can’t do it. I don’t think I could have someone else do it for me, if I can’t do it. If I can’t do it, I don’t want someone else doing it for me. And then sustainability. For sustainability, 75 pounds is two pounds per… So it’s a pound per week, per duck. Fifty-two weeks, 110… So it’s 110 pounds of food for one to one and a half pounds of meat. So on a sustainability issue, it’s 100 to 1. And that grain gets… You know, who knows where that grain comes from? But, I mean, when it gets to this point, it’s not even about sustainability, it was just, you know, I don’t feel real good inside. It was the first time I’ve ever seen that. So, kind of… [Inhales deeply] Yeah. I’d been so caught up in the destruction caused by animal agriculture, I realized I’d never truly dwelled on the obvious reality that every one of these animals was killed. It was always a disconnected, abstract fact of eating meat. But when it became personal, face-to-face, the story changed. I had already scheduled, weeks in advance, to film another backyard slaughter of a chicken that stopped producing eggs. I didn’t know how I was gonna possibly go through another slaughter. So I didn’t.
David Phinney: Animal Place is a farm animal sanctuary in Northern California that focuses on rescuing animals from the animal agriculture industry. A lot of people don’t realize that meat-breed chickens, like this guy behind us, they’re generally slaughtered at about 42 days old. Whereas chickens that are bred for egg production are killed when their productivity starts to decrease, when they start laying less eggs. And that generally happens about 18 months to 20 months. It doesn’t matter if you buy caged eggs, eggs from hens on cage-free farms, or free-range or pasture-based farms. Hi, Carol. It doesn’t matter.
Andersen: It turns out there’s a successful movement of sustainable animal-alternative food producers based right here in California, funded by big names like Bill Gates and Biz Stone. When you imagine all those egg-laying hens eat all that soy and all that corn, you have an energy conversion ratio at about 38 to 1, whereas alternatively, you can find plants, and you can grow those plants and you can convert those plants into food. The energy conversion ratio for the plants that we’re using to replace the eggs is about 2 to 1, compared to 38 to 1 for eggs. So our explicit goal is to have the maximum amount of impact by creating this new model that makes the global egg industry entirely obsolete. We’re making the Omega products, and proving that we can make better tasting food that’s great for you, and it takes one-twentieth of the land and resources that dairy do. If I could tell you that you could have the fiber-structure of meat, the satiating bite of meat, the protein, and all the nutritional benefits of meat, without actually having animal protein itself, and by doing that, you could address climate change, you could address the human health epidemics that we’re seeing, you could address animal welfare, and you could address natural resource conservation, would you make the change?
Andersen: But what if people just ate less animal products? Like going meatless on Mondays. When you go meatless on Monday, if you ascribe to that campaign, you’re essentially contributing to climate change, pollution, depletion of our planet’s resources, and your own health, then on only six days of the week, instead of seven. You’re creating a false justification, clearly a false sense of justification for what you’re doing on those other six days of the week. So in other words, we really shouldn’t be resting on our laurels of what you do right only one-seventh of the time. You can’t be an environmentalist and eat animal products, period. Kid yourself if you want, if you want to feed your addiction, so be it. But don’t call yourself an environmentalist.
Andersen: I knew I had to stop eating all animal products. I wanted to help the planet be sustainable, but I needed to sustain myself. I had doubts about being healthy and not eating meat, dairy, and eggs. All I knew was the standard American diet I grew up on. Um, is it even possible to be a healthy vegetarian or vegan? Is it possible to be a healthy vegetarian or vegan? I became vegan for, let’s see, 32 years ago now. And I run several miles every day. I go biking 40, 50 miles through the countryside. I work long hours. I feel great. It’s nice waking up in a light, trim body every day. And so many of my vegan friends and patients are just… They’re thriving since their transition to a vegan diet. So, yes, and I’ve seen vegan moms go through healthy vegan pregnancies, and deliver healthy vegan children, and raise them to tall, full-sized, intelligent vegan adults. And, yes, certainly all the nutrients are there in the plant kingdom to do this. That is correct. Think anyone should be consuming dairy? I really don’t. When you think about it, the purpose of cow’s milk… I did most of my growing up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. The purpose of cow’s milk is to turn a 65-pound calf into a 400-pound cow as rapidly as possible. Cow’s milk is baby calf growth fluid. It’s what the stuff is. Everything in that white liquid, the hormones, the lipids, the proteins, the sodium, the growth factors, the IGF, every one of those is meant to blow that calf up to a great big cow, or it wouldn’t be there. And whether you pour it on your cereal as a liquid, whether you clot it into yogurt, whether you ferment it into cheese, whether you freeze it into ice cream, it’s baby calf growth fluid. And women eat it and it stimulates their tissues, and it gives women breast lumps, it makes the uterus get big, and they get fibroids and they bleed and they get hysterectomies, and they need mammograms, and gives guys man boobs. This is… Cow’s milk is the lactation secretions of a large bovine mammal who just had a baby. It’s for baby calves. I tell my patients, “Go look in the mirror. “Do you have big ears? Do you have a tail? Are you a baby calf? “If you’re not, don’t be eating baby calf growth fluid.” In any level, there’s nothing in it people need.
Andersen: It was a relief to hear I didn’t have to eat any animal products to be healthy and even thrive, but I still thought you needed animal manure to grow organic agriculture. It turns out there’s an entire movement with people growing food without any animal inputs. I visited Earthworks Urban Farm in Detroit, where they’re working with and growing food for the low-income community. We tend to see ourselves as individuals in a bubble and forget that we inhabit this land and this earth with other creatures. So we have to learn how to share more, I guess. Jah is here. He’s working on his garden. You’ll be surprised what you can do with what seems to be not a lot of space. About a four by eight, yeah.
Andersen: What’s your goal this year? How much do you think you can maximize? Uh, I would push for 100 at least. -At least. At least.
Andersen: A hundred pounds. That’s amazing. The one full year after this was constructed, we doubled our yield to over 14,000 pounds of food. Fourteen thousand pounds? On about how many acres? Uh, about two and a half. So as much food as we produce and we grow, or the earth helps us grow, we also have to return those nutrients back to the soil. So we like to think of our work as being regenerative. That we’re putting as much life-giving substance in the ground as we’re taking out. So is it just kind of healthier and safer to use vegetarian -or vegetable composting stuff? -Yeah, that’s what we found. But also because it takes less time and it’s a lot easier to manage.
A lot easier, yeah.
And the soil’s just as rich?
Yeah, absolutely. Not only is veganic more compassionate, it’s also more efficient. And in a society with this many billions of people, we need to be as efficient as possible. Some people might go back and say if we embraced this primitive approach of only wild animals everywhere, and we go back to a hunter-gatherer system, that sounds great. But that was 10 million people on the entire continent. Maybe a little bit more, a little bit less, no one really knows. Today, now, we have what? We have 320 million in the US, 25 million in Canada, another 100 and so many million in Mexico. So, North America is up to almost, you know, 450 million people. Trying to figure out a way to bring animal agriculture in balance with 450 million hungry people is impossible. This is amazing, I didn’t believe it when I first learned it, but 216,000 more people are born to the planet every day. Every day. It’s extraordinary. But what’s really extraordinary is you need, per day, 34,000 new acres of farmable land. It’s not happening.
Andersen: To feed a person on an all-plant based vegan diet for a year requires just one-sixth of an acre of land. To feed that same person on a vegetarian diet that includes eggs and dairy requires three times as much land. To feed an average US citizen’s high-consumption diet of meat, dairy, and eggs requires 18 times as much land. This is because you can produce 37,000 pounds of vegetables on one and a half acres, but only 375 pounds of meat on that same plot of land. A high-consuming, meat-eating Californian saves 1.4 tons of C02 equivalent per year by removing beef from their diet. They save 1.6 tons by going vegetarian. And 1.8 tons by going vegan. This is more than switching to solar power for your home, or driving a hybrid car. Only switching to an electric vehicle saves more, which still though, few can afford. But, unlike an electric vehicle, the savings don’t end with greenhouse gases. A vegan diet produces half as much C02 as an American omnivore, uses one-eleventh the amount of fossil fuels, one-thirteenth the amount of water, and an eighteenth of the amount of land. After adding this all up, I realized I had the choice every single day to save over 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forested land, the equivalent of 10 pounds of C02, and one animal’s life. Every single day. If we all, as a society, did go vegan, and we moved away from eating animal foods and toward a plant-based diet, what would happen? If we didn’t kill all these cows and eat them, then we wouldn’t have to breed all these cows because we’re breeding cows, and chickens, and pigs, and fish. We’re breeding them over and over again, relentlessly. So if we didn’t breed them, then we wouldn’t have to feed them. If we didn’t have to feed them, then we wouldn’t have to devote all this land to growing grains, and legumes, and so forth to feed to them. And so then the forests could come back. Wildlife could come back. The oceans would come back. The rivers would run clean again. The air would come back. Our health would return. Renewable energy infrastructure such as building solar and wind generators all over our country to reduce climate change, that’s a pretty good idea, but it’s projected to take at least 20 years and, at least, minimally, $18 trillion to develop. Another solution to climate change, we could stop eating animals. And it could be done today. It doesn’t have to take 20 years. And it certainly doesn’t have to take $18 trillion, because it costs nothing. Some people say, “Well, let’s fix CO2, and then we can worry about methane.” Well, that’s the wrong… It’s the other way around that actually makes sense. Do something about methane, because you’ll get a response right away. Quietly and unmistakably, the most powerful thing that someone can do for the environment. Um, no other lifestyle choice has a farther reaching, and more profoundly positive impact on the planet and all life on Earth than choosing to stop consuming animals and live a vegan lifestyle. You don’t think we couldn’t solve this problem in a heartbeat? I’ll tell you what, all we would need is for the environmentalists to live what they profess, and we’d be on a new course in the world. We will not succeed until we stop animal agriculture. And by “succeed,” I mean we will not save ecosystems to the extent necessary. We will not have enough food for people around the planet, we will not stop global warming, we will not stop pollution in the dead zones that run off all the fields of corn and soy that are grown to feed livestock, and we will not stop the hunting of wolves and other predators. Now, organic farming is one major, positive step in the right direction, but we need to keep walking. We need to get beyond organics. We need to get to sustainability. When you take the animal out, you also take the greenhouse gas issue out. And you take the food safety issues out. And you take some of other externalities related to food scarcity out. But one thing that’s amazing is I think you put our values back in. You put values like compassion, and integrity, and kindness… Values that are natural to human beings, you put that in. You build that back into the story of our food. And I think, as this begins to progress, I think it also helps people to pause before they eat that egg, before they eat that steak, before they eat that chicken nugget. And ask themselves, is that really what they want? Or do they actually want something more?
Andersen: I had to come to the full conclusion, the only way to sustainably and ethically live on this planet with seven billion other people is to live an entirely plant-based vegan diet. I decided instead of eating others, to eat for others. At first, like these environmental groups, I was afraid of what it’d mean to change. But now, I embrace it. All this talk about sustainability sounded like our planet was on some sort of life support. And I don’t want her to simply survive or to sustain, but to thrive. Life today is not about sustainability. It’s about thrive-ability. She’s given so much to us for so long, it was time to give back. A hundred and eight percent of everything we have. It felt good. It was an alignment. And we see this movement, not just about providing cheaper, inexpensive food that everyone can have, but also a spiritual move. A move towards understanding who we really are and how we can really connect to each other. Do what you can do as well as you can do it every day of your life, and you will end up dying one of the happiest individuals that have ever died. We become part of a gathering momentum of other people. It’s happening. This is really what’s happening. This is the news. Selflessness is a nice way to be. It has all these benefits for yourself, as well as the planet and other people. So it’s a beautiful way to live. Ecologically, it just feels better. This is about massively transforming how our society eats, because it’s a necessity. It’s acting on what we know. And acting kindly and gently on the whole planet and with other people, to accomplish the goals of living better. We can do it, but we have to choose to do it. You can change the world. You must change the world.