It is often joked that even paranoids have real enemies and a case in point is the alarming new documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. It may be paranoid to suggest that environmental groups ignore the leading cause of deforestation, methane and ocean degradation --animal agriculture--for financial gain. But why won't Emily Meredith, spokesperson for the industry group, Animal Agriculture Alliance, deny donating to such environmental groups? Twice saying she cannot answer the questions as she looks at an off camera adviser?
It may be paranoid to allege that activists who challenge the cattle industry risk their lives, yet activist nun Sister Dorothy Stang was shot six times outside the town of Anapu, Brazil for doing exactly that. A rancher in Brazil's Amazon was sentenced to 30 years in prison for ordering the killing.
Directed by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, Cowspiracy, screened this week by the John Marshall Law School Student Animal Legal Defense Fund Chapter in Chicago, connotes other popular movies like Bowling for Columbine, Super Size Me and An Inconvenient Truth with its blend of entertaining statistics and "gotcha" style interviews.
And some organizations are definitely "got." When asked about the role of animal agriculture in environmental degradation, Ann Notthoff, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, emits a drawn-out creepy laugh and says she doesn't know anything about "cow parts." When asked about the sustainability of any fishing given the huge numbers of unintended species that become "bykill," Dr. Geoff Shester with Oceana gives director Kip Andersen a lesson in capitalism. The ocean is a "conveyer belt" and fish are constantly replenishing he says. As long as we catch and eat the "interest" and not the "principle," there is no problem.
A spokesman for Amazon Watch cannot answer what the "leading cause" of deforestation is and hems and haws for excruciating seconds on camera. A spokesman for the Surfrider Foundation acknowledges that animal agriculture might be an environmental problem somewhere but not in California. And director of the Sierra Club Bruce Hamilton's answer when asked by Andersen about animal agriculture--"What about it?"--is so disingenuous, it becomes the lead-in to the entire movie. Few if any of the environmental groups even cite animal agriculture on their web sites, says Andersen.
Andersen's interview of California Water Resources Control Board officials was more nuanced. They admit, somewhat sheepishly, that animal agriculture is the top water user in the state but say it is not their "area" and that you can't change human "behavior." Andersen tells the officials he doesn't buy it--telling people to take "shorter showers" and make other water lifestyle changes, is also asking people to change their behavior.
Early in the movie, Andersen says he had been made a passionate environmentalist after watching Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and pledged to bicycle everywhere and take short showers. But then Andersen discovered that animal agriculture was the leading and often undisclosed source of resource degradation and pollution, accounting for a third of the earth's fresh water usage, most rain forest destruction and the ocean's growing dead zones. He discovers eating one hamburger uses as much water as two months of showers. Cowspiracy was born.