Cowspiracy purports to be a documentary film released in 2014, created by directors Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn and later backed by actor Leonardo Di Caprio.
According to Wikipedia, the film…
explores the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, and investigates the policies of environmental organizations on this issue
While Cowspiracy is often put forward as an accurate representation of the world (usually by those who want to see an end to animal agriculture), many people involved on the ground in regenerative agriculture have argued that many of its claims simply don’t stand up to the science.
For example check out…
- Sheldon Frith’s collection of rebuttals to Cowspiracy and other anti-animal agriculture propaganda.
- “Regenerative Agriculture and the Truth About Cowspiracy”: interview with Doniga Markegard on Daniel Vitalis’s postcast. (Doniga was featured in Cowspiracy, in which she claims she was seriously misrepresented.)
- A comprehensive Quora response by EOM’s Karin Lindquist to “How Accurate is the Movie Cowspiracy?“
- And this excellent response by farmer Garth Brown from Cairncrest Farm
Now, in a shocking U-turn, the film’s makers have been forced to retract one of its most fundamental and damning claims: that animal agriculture is responsible for an incredible 51% of greenhouse gas emissions (a figure that has always been criticized as wildly inaccurate by scientists, including the Union of Concerned Scientists).
In a tweet from the @Cowspiracy account earlier this year, Andersen and Kuhn have now quietly revised the 51% claim down to 18%, which, while closer to the truth, is still probably much higher than the real figure.
— Cowspiracy (@Cowspiracy) May 10, 2018
Clearly, this is not a full and honest retraction. They’re not putting their hands up and saying, “Guys, we were wrong and we’re sorry for misleading you.” However, it does clearly tell us that the filmmakers now acknowledge the real impact of animal ag on the climate is at least 60% lower than the film claims.
What are the facts?
Based on data from 2000, the World Resources Institute estimated the greenhouse gas contribution of all agriculture at just 13.5%, of which “livestock and manure” contribute only 5.1% (based on CO2 equivalent calculations). That’s ONE TENTH of Cowspiracy’s original claim!
For more information, see Frank Mitloehner’s post on his GHG Guru blog. As Professor and Air Quality Specialist in Cooperative Extension in the Department of Animal Science at the University of California-Davis, Frank knows more about the real links between agriculture and climate than almost anyone on the planet.
Not only does he show how the makers of Cowspiracy “cherry-picked an inflated number from a single, flawed source”, in his blog post Frank also says the 18% figure is known to be an exaggeration…
Incidentally, the 18 percent figure is still not accurate, having come from the FAO study “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” which has since been revised by its authors to 14.5 percent (FAO “Tackling Climate Through Livestock,”), but at least it is far less misleading than 51 percent. Perhaps reluctant to dial back the statistic, they seemingly couldn’t resist stating that even at 18 percent, it is more than “the combined exhaust of all transportation,” using a life cycle (direct and indirect) assessment for animals and a mere tailpipe emission (direct only) for transportation, an assertion Mottet and Steinfeld debunked in their article noted above.
It is now clearer than ever that the makers of the film set out not to report the scientific facts, but to make the case for a future vision of the world that excludes farming animals. Even assuming that they acted with the best intentions in the way they believed was correct, deliberately skewing the data in this way destroys the credibility of the so-called documentary.
A better future
What’s more, because propaganda like Cowspiracy sets out to discredit all uses of animals in agriculture, it risks tarring regenerative agriculture with the same brush as intensive factory farming.
There is now an overwhelming amount of evidence from all over the world that herds of animals grazing on land is not just sustainable, but can build soil, enrich ecosystems, support biodiversity, and sequester massive amounts of atmospheric carbon into the soil, which in fact is probably the best tool we have for rapidly reversing climate change.
Time is running out, and we don’t need propaganda. Instead, check out the positive work that real farmers and ranchers are doing literally on the ground to make a real, positive difference. (This and other movies are available at http://www.soilcarboncowboys.com/)