Days of Revolt: The Assault of the Animal Agriculture Industry
In this episode of teleSUR’s Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges interviews the directors of the film “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” to discuss the impact of the animal agriculture industry on accelerating climate change and environmental degradation, and the surprising silence on the part of environmental groups.
CHRIS HEDGES, TRNN: Hi, I’m Chris Hedges and welcome to Days of Revolt.
In today’s segment filmed in New York City, we’re going to discuss the animal agriculture industry and its effects on climate change and global warming which rival that of the fossil fuel industry if it doesn’t outstrip it.
And with me to discuss this issue are the co-directors of the film Cowspiracy, which after I watched led me to become a vegan. Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn. Thank for joining us.
KIP ANDERSEN: Thank you.
HEDGES: I think we’ll open this segment by showing the trailer of your film and then we can begin to discuss what you focused on within the documentary.
[SPEAKER]: Do you think there should be any concern of us making this documentary?
[SPEAKER]: Of course. If you don’t realize right now that you’re putting your neck on the chopping block, you better take that camera and throw it away.
[SPEAKER]: It’s an environmental disaster that’s being ignored by the very people who should be [channeling].
DR. GREG LITUS: Let’s look at the fundamental problem here.
DR. WILL TUTTLE: No one wants to talk about.
MICHAEL POLLEN: Because they’re membership organizations, a lot of them. They like to maximize the number of people making contributions.
ANN NOTTHOFF: The leading cause of environmental degradation is.
BRUCE HAMILTON: We need to address that as well.
KAMYAR GUIVETCHI: It’s not up to the Department of Water Resources.
CHAD NELSEN: Hard to actually target like one thing.
LINDSEY ALLEN: I don’t necessarily know what it is.
DR. RICHARD OPPENLANDER: There’s suppression and mismanagement of information. Everywhere, it abounds.
[SPEAKER]: It starts at the local level but then it goes all the way to Congress.
[SPEAKER]: When you consider the devastation it’s having on our planet as well as the oceans.
TUTTLE: We’re in the middle of the largest extinction of species in 65 million years.
[SPEAKER]: They can dictate the federal policies because they have so much political power
WILL POTTER: They’re 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.
TUTTLE: That’s the one thing no one talks about. You know everyone goes around it.
[SPEAKER]: Unfortunately, we are no longer able to sponsor your film project. We had a meeting and with the growing controversial subject matter we had some concerns that we have to pull out.
[SPEAKER]: You’re going against people that have massive legal resources and you have nothing.
[SPEAKER]: A lot of people just keep their mouth shut because they don’t want to be the next one with a bullet to their head.
[SPEAKER]: I don’t know that I would want to comment on that.
HEDGES: So in the film you unravel it as a kind of process of discovery. Which I think works very effectively. Maybe you can describe the steps by which you begin to question not only the role of the animal agriculture industry but the immense silence about this role even within environmental groups.
ANDERSON: it’s really a fun discovery, first finding out a post by the UN expressing a study that showed that animi culture, raising animals for food was a leading cause of greenhouse gases. When compared to all totaling transportation together, cars, trains, automobiles, planes, everything. That still did not match the impact that raising animals for food did. It was around 18%, 13%, and you see later in the film, there are different numbers that go all the way up to 51%. That number varies depending on how the calculations are done. But once they found that out it kind of became a domino effect, I said well what else is happening? Then found out not only is the leading cause of greenhouse gases but it’s also the leading cause of soil depletion, water pollution, water consumption, rain forest destruction, land use, species extinction, and the list goes on and on.
HEDGES: Well let’s break it down. Let’s talk about how the industry functions in terms of exploiting natural resources and as you point out poisoning natural resources whether it’s these huge factory farms or the rain forest. Give me some kind of examples of statistics that illustrate the extent of the devastation.
KEEGAN KUHN: Yeah. I mean the livestock industry is on a mission. 45% of all land use in the world, ice free, land is used to animi culture. Raising animals for food or raising the [fee] crops that are fed to those animals. So just that alone, it’s the largest land use of any industry.
HEDGES: And we should add that this is largely contributing to the destruction of the rain forest as they rip down the rain forest primarily to grow, is it soy, in order to feed livestock.
KUHN: Absolutely. Leading cause of rain forest destruction, leading cause of deforestation around the world is for raising animals for food and yes the rain forest, the Amazonian rain forest, 91% of all Amazon destruction in Brazil is caused from animal agriculture. And that’s either to clear forest to grow grass to feed the animals or to grow genetically engineered corn and soybean which is then fed to the livestock. And then it’s not just South Americans eating beef. Corn and soybeans are then exported to Europe to feed livestock in Europe. So this is destruction that’s happening around the globe. It’s by far the most destructive industry on the planet today.
HEDGES: Talk a little bit about one of the things I thought you did quite a good job of in the film and you also subsequently working with my wife Eunice Wong wrote a book The Sustainability Secret. But I thought you did a very good job of explaining the input in terms of resource into for instance producing a gallon of milk or a pound of beef as well as the consequences, we’ll talk about methane and stuff later. But talk a little bit about the cost of sustaining an industry that centers a diet around the consumption of meat.
KUHN: The impact and the footprint of these products is massive. Just look at a pound of beef takes anywhere from 2,500 gallons to 8,000 gallons of water to produce. A gallon of milk takes over 1,000 gallons of water to produce. 56% of all water consumed in the United States goes into animal agriculture verses 4% for domestic use. So the footprint of these products is massive.
HEDGES: And yet you have a drought in California and it’s never mentioned.
KIP ANDERSEN: And that’s when the relation to, you put it into comedy terms. Eating one single hamburger is equivalent to 660 gallons of water. It’s equivalent to, eating one hamburger is equivalent of showering or not showering for 2 entire months, where in California has a drought issue. They’re putting fines on people sprinkling water on their lawns yet doing nothing about their people’s diet. It’s only 5% domestic. All domestic water consumption is 5% versus 55% animi culture. So anything we do at home, short showers, turning off your faucet, brushing your teeth is negligent compared to just a single day of eating these products.
HEDGES: Let’s talk a little bit about ag-gag laws which are very draconian. Then let’s talk a little bit about the big environmental groups which have remain muscled on this issue which is something that I think you do a very good job of calling them out on both in the film and the book. But let’s first talk if you can explain how these ag-gag laws work and what they’ve done.
KUHN: So ag-gag laws are laws that have been passed in about 13 different states in the United States that silence dissent in this industry. They’ve made it criminal act to expose the atrocities that livestock industry commits against animals.
HEDGES: Am I correct that in many cases it’s considered a form of terrorism or under terrorism laws?
KUHN: Yeah, and so there’s ag-gag laws which are state, which again make it illegal to document and expose the atrocities.
HEDGES: This is like sneaking into a large slaughterhouse and filming it.
KUHN: So it goes from all the way from being an undercover investigator to being on a public road and filming from public land into a private facility. There’s actually a National Geographic photographer who was arrested for doing aerial photography of a feed lot in Kansas. So those are state laws.
HEDGES: So what are the consequences? What do they do to you?
KUHN: It’s fines. It can be up to jail sentence as well. But we have federal laws. We have the [Animal and Price Terrorism Act]. It is a felony and considered terrorist activity for anyone who disrupts the business of animal enterprise or anyone who interferes with an animal enterprise. And these laws don’t benefit consumers in any way.
HEDGES: Well of course because if consumers saw, of the things I remember, I can’t remember if it was the book or the film but when they have chicken carcasses a third of the water weight is fecal materials. And that these chickens are in these big vats and they are dark with fecal waste and the workers call it fecal soup. And if you look on the chicken package it says that it includes, of course it raises the price per pound but essentially it’s fecal waste and water that leeches into the chicken and then is treated with heavy antibiotics right. Is that correct?
ANDERSEN: Majority when they test these meat products, on one study 100% of all beef of all meat, hamburger, all had fecal contamination. Chicken had around 70% and that’s the conditions they live in. These conditions they leak out into streams, they leak out into cest pools and spread onto farmlands that go into people’s homes and into the steams and then we have huge ocean dead zones such as the Gulf of Mexico and it just goes on and on.
HEDGES: Which is from the animal agriculture industry?
ANDERSEN: Yeah, mostly from it’s between the actual farms themselves and it’s also between all the pesticides that’s used to grow the corn and soy and then is leeched in there.
HEDGES: One of the reasons the ag-gag laws I think are so severe in this I think you do a good job of explaining is because of the horrendous forms or conditions that animals are raised in. Perhaps you can describe a little bit about what those conditions are. For instance, with cattle.
KUHN: So for dairy cows they spend, a dairy cow lives to be about 25 years normally. But in the dairy industry they live to be about 4 years. So they’re continually impregnated, against their will. As soon as they have babies, the babies are taken away so that we can take their milk.
HEDGES: Or and for veal. If they’re male calves.
KUHN: All male calves end up in the veal industry or are slaughtered right then. They don’t produce milk so they’re worthless to the dairy industry. Then you have the egg industry which you know, 90% of all eggs or more of all eggs are produced from battery hens, which are hens kept in cages so small they can’t turn around or spread their wings. They are again slaughtered at about 2 years of age when the could live 10,12,15 years because this industry is all about productivity. It doesn’t care about the animal’s welfare; it doesn’t care about the animals wellbeing or their psychology it’s about producing as much as possible.
HEDGES: Under horrendous conditions. They can’t move. Especially with breeders they can’t even often walk. And disease is rampant.
KUHN: That’s it. I mean 80% of all antibiotics sold go into animal agriculture because these animals live in such horrendous conditions, the only way to keep them alive is to feed them drugs.
HEDGES: Right and they are essentially tortured their entire life and then slaughtered.
KUHN: I don’t think that’s an exaggeration at all to say that.
HEDGES: And that’s why we have ag-gag laws. Because if people actually saw how their meat products were being produced it would be so appalling that it would be very hard to consume these products.
KUHN: That’s exactly what we’ve seen happen when investigators go into these facilities, they are exposing the atrocities and consumers, there’s consumer backlash. Consumers don’t want to support an industry that’s producing horrendous treatment to the animals.
HEDGES: Well let’s before we talk about organic farming, let’s talk a little bit about the big environmental groups which you begin you film by essentially going to these groups and asking them about animal agriculture.
ANDERSEN: That was really the inspiration actually, the motivation to make the film was even more than the atrocities that are happening from animal agriculture. It’s the fact that when I went on these organizations websites, the Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, that I supported my whole life. In particular the Sierra Club I used to support specifically the wolves but never thought about why the wolves were becoming, they decimated themselves and being shot down is because this cattle industry. Once I found out they were not talking about this information I started emailing them and calling them for months and actually years and they did not want to talk about it at all. And it’s so bizarre for them to cover up the number one cause of destruction for every single thing that they’re supposedly working towards sustaining and it’s a one stop shop. Yet they’re completely ignoring this because it’s essentially quote unquote a win campaign.
ANDERSEN: Because people don’t want to hear it. Greenpeace, where the joke was they should be called Greenplease because they’re more concerned with getting more donorship. To getting more funding and a lot of these groups on the board of directors, for example NRDC, one of the main…
HEDGES: What’s NRDC?
ANDERSON: National Resources Defense Council. On their board of counselors, some of them are a part of this industry and so when you have the board of directors and they’re not only a part of the industry and there’s some crossover yet they’re also consuming meat and dairy. They’re part of the problem. So it’s kind of like in the American Lung Association. The whole board of directors they sit around and smoke cigarettes.
HEDGES: Do you think the issue is because their contributors are eating meat or because they’re frightened of the animal agriculture industry or both?
ANDERSEN: I personally think it’s a combination of everything but I’d say the lowest is a fear. We believe it’s more fear than losing donors and it’s not again a win campaign. Because they do have to spend millions of dollars on doing a campaign. But we kept asking them, why not just put it on the website? Why not just present this information on there? And we just think that they don’t feel that their members will want to hear the truth of what is happening because that effects them. It’s easier to talk about some abstract concept like a dam that they will never see yet they can sign their name on it. Something that I can do 3 times a day or not do.
HEDGES: Let’s talk about organic farming. Now, that’s also something that you explore in the film and in the book and I think you implode this myth that free range or organic livestock is a solution.
KUHN: Yeah, if you look at the environmental organizations that do talk about animal agriculture, they’ll talk about buying organic or free range or local meat and sadly that’s not a solution either. Free ranged cows, and pigs, and chickens, require vastly more land. So a factory farm cow needs about 2 acres of land to raise her to slaughter weight. Verses a free range cow she needs 10 to 100 acres. So vastly more land that needs to be cleared of forest, needs to be cleared of wildlife, needs to be cleared of all native plant species to make room for a completely unnative species. So just that alone is a huge issue.
There’s been studies that show that actually grass fed cows produce more methane than factory farmed animals. But the wildlife issue is a huge part of it. When you clear land we have more wild horses in federal holding facilities than we have free on the range. The reason for that is cattle ranchers are grazing cattle on public lands and they put pressure on the U.S. government to take the horses off because they compete with their cows. So grass fed beef is not a solution. Free range farming is not a solution. We have 7.2 billion people on the planet. There’s no way we’re going to feed the world with organic farms. Just we simply can’t do it when it comes to animal agriculture.
HEDGES: Can you talk a little bit about statistically how the animal agriculture industry contributes to greenhouse gases.
KUHN: Yeah, so according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, they did a study couple [inaud.] report and they said that 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, human caused greenhouse gas, come from animal agriculture, raising animals for food. Which is more than the whole transportation industry, 13% for that. But then there’s two environmental advisers to the World Bank who did their own analysis and used the global standard for measuring greenhouse gases and they found that actually 51% of all greenhouse gases come from animal agriculture. That’s because we have to take consideration, the loss of carbon sinks. When you destroy rain forest growth to raise cattle, you’re losing the ability of that ecosystem to restore carbon. Take in to consider respiration, we’re exceeding the bio capacity of the planet by a magnitude of 7. So you have to consider things like respiration.
You have to measure methane at its proper level which is, methane gas is 86 times more powerful at trapping heat or CO2 on a 20-year time frame. We don’t have 100 years to deal with climate change, we have 10, 15, 20 years at best. So we have to be talking about the short lived potent greenhouse gases. So when you take all those things into consideration it’s 51% or more of all human caused greenhouse gas come from animal agriculture.
HEDGES: And I think, one of the things you raise is that if people switched to a vegan diet, it takes far less cultivation on the land. That you are actually reclaiming huge sections of the earth, especially in the rain forest which are kind of the lungs of the planet. If you switch to a vegan diet or if we were vegan, what would cultivation look like? Statistically you can feed yourself on a much much smaller imprint.
ANDERSEN: The equivalent between a vegan and a vegetarian is it 6 times more land?
KUHN: Yeah, so it’s 3 times more land to produce the food need. So a vegan takes about 1/6th of an acre. A vegetarian takes 3 times as much.
HEDGES: 1/6th of an acre?
KUHN: For an entire year to grow all the food you need, for 1/6th of an acre and that’s a global standard. So that takes into consideration poor soil qualities and on and on. It takes 18 times more land to feed an American omnivore. 1 acre of land you can grow a cow and produce 300lbs of meat or you can grow vegetables on that and grow 3600lbs of edible plant protein right there. So just the footprint alone. Right now we have less than an acre of farmable land per person on the planet.
It takes the average American an acre to an acre and a half to feed them every single year. So we simply don’t have enough land on the planet to feed everybody the way Americans are eating.
ANDERSEN: And a lot of people think it’s population issue but the main thing is what the population is doing. There’s some studies that show we have enough food if everyone to say was vegan to feed around 14 billion people. We’re raising around 9 billion to feed 14 billion people. But the way we’re at now we need around 2.5 planets to sustain this meat and dairy addiction this planet’s on now.
HEDGES: They also raise the issue of hunger which is endemic in huge parts of the globe and how an assault against the animal agriculture industry and switching to a vegan diet makes it possible to feed people who are not being fed.
KUHN: The fact that we’re feeding 50% of the world’s grain to not human animals is an atrocity when you think about 700 million humans going hungry every single day. Not being able to meet their core needs. You can also look at just the economic impact of it too. During the famine in Ethiopia in the 90’s when their population was literally starving to death they were still exporting grain to feed European cattle. So there’s a huge implication for humanity as well and we have to consider that close to a billion people are hungry every single day. We can’t allocate resources to feed non-human animals. It’s completely inefficient.
HEDGES: We won’t get into the health issue but they’re there. You know higher cancer rates, cholesterol, heart disease. This all comes from the heavy consumption of animal products. The whole sort of notion that we need protein from animal products is a fiction. Yet this is a message that has been effectively stifled by the animal agriculture industry and I think even when you attempted to make this film you lost your funder over this issue, is that correct?
ANDERSEN: We did. It’s a very controversial subject. It turned out multiple people lost their funding. There’s one group was going to fund us they didn’t want to then it happened again, it happened again. A few after they saw the film saw how powerful and how much the message needs to be out there. They actually helped in the long run but at the time, it’s just so controversial and so many different levels of them being attached to it. Same reason why the Greenpeaces and Sierra Clubs and Amazon Watch to be associated with something that might be a detriment to them as we say some people in groups are more concern about the sustainability of themselves over the planet or profits over [inaud.].
HEDGES: Did they react to the film? Any of the big green groups that you profiled?
ANDERSEN: They did, they did. Greenpeace wrote a pretty weak editorial on it. Sierra Club directly acknowledged it and said that the answer, Cowspiracy’s true but the answer is to eat grass fed beef. When we have this huge section on it’s so terrible so they’ve done it in different ways. Rain Forest Action Network which is a great, probably the biggest win so far, they actually have a whole section on their website about meat consumption and how it affects the rain forest. So it’s a start.
And it’s happening. It’s still in it’s infancy. Cowspiracy has only been on Netflix for a while but it’s just getting talked about. I was at COP21 in Paris and the buzz was the film and this information about climate change that was not being talked about inside the rooms but outside the rooms everyone was saying finally this is the first time it’s getting talked about.
HEDGES: Well I found when I watched the film I was because I write about corporate power and corporate oppression and I walked out of the film and told Eunice that this was a huge piece of the puzzle that I’d missed. In terms of the exploitation by massive corporations that control what we eat and that poisoned the planet. It even poisoned the consumers of these products and we don’t hear it. It’s so effectively been banished from public discussion. Even more than perhaps any other issue. I mean certainly people are aware of the fossil fuel industry but I think there is a complete silence and ignorance that’s been imposed.
ANDERSEN: There is and the thing is with the fossil fuel, that affects the climate change more than anything but people sometimes really get sidetracked or focused on just the climate change part where even if we somehow solve this climate change issue, you still have the water depletion, the water pollution, the ocean dead zones, the rain forest destruction. So you cure that, you still have all this that this one industry’s doing. So fossil fuels is one thing, this and this. But this is a one stop that’s killing on every level. Like you said, it’s the biggest most urgent secret that finally thank goodness is getting out.
HEDGES: Well it’s also people ask what can you do. And I think you talked earlier about limiting showers and this kind of stuff. The biggest contribution that any of us can make for our children and for future generations and we can begin now is adopt a vegan diet. It is I think arguably one of the most ethical choices that those of us care about sustaining the planet can make.
ANDERSEN: And it’s just like you said, it’s sustaining your health as well. Especially if you’re a parent and you want to see grandkids someday. The information that’s being hidden against the environment. The same thing’s happening with health and that’s soon coming out too. So it sustains not only the planet but your family and your own health. You said ethics, imagine the ripple of say visualizing a vegan world and the peace that comes from the ripple effect that is created all the way down from top to bottom. It’s amazing just to imagine.
HEDGES: Great. Well thank you Kip and Keegan. And thank you for watching Days of Revolt.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a
recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
Producer – Kayla Rivara
Associate Producer – Dharna Noor
Technical Director – Chris DeMillo
Camera / Audio – Adam Coley, Chris DeMillo
Lighting Consultant – Ned Hallick
Editor – Sebastian Pituscan
Graphics – Oscar Leon
Special Thanks to NYU