Cowspiracy Stops Short of One Obvious Climate-Change Solution

When the documentary film Cowspiracy: The Sustainable Secret debuted in 2014, it soon joined the ranks of ground-breaking films like Michael Moore’s An Inconvenient Truth and Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish. Produced by environmental activist and actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Cowspiracy documents why factory farming methods that produce nearly all of our meats, dairy, and eggs are a major cause of environmental pollution and global warming.

cowspiracy and beef

Cowspiracy rings the alarm bell about the negative environmental effects of our country’s feedlots, known as “concentrated animal feeding operations” or CAFOs. Feeding Americans’ insatiable appetite for beef is a major contributor to greenhouse gases. A broad range of respected studies reveals these disturbing statistics:

  • Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions—more than the combined exhaust from all transportation.
  • Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32 Billion of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Methane is 25-100 times more destructive than CO2 on a 20-year time frame.
  • Transportation exhaust from the fossil fuels burned for road, rail, air, and marine transportation of the animal agriculture segment is responsible for 13% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Did Cowspiracy Go Far Enough?

The most surprising discovery for many who watched the film was learning that when cows eat—and they eat constantly—they also belch methane constantly. Methane is a natural by-product of cows’ complex digestive systems, whether they eat GMO grain or non-GMO pasture grasses. However, the similarities between grain-fed and grass-fed cows end there.

Cowspiracy failed to illuminate the many added benefits of grass-fed and pasture-raised cows such as:

  • Healthier for consumers – Grass-fed cows produce a higher quality beef than cows raised on GMO grains. Rich in balanced nutrients, grass-fed beef and fat provide quality protein, vitamins D and A, most B vitamins, vitamin E, many minerals, most amino acids, and the proper ratio of anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fats to inflammatory Omega-6 fats.
  • Natural weight-loss aid – Grass-fed beef has a naturally occurring healthy fat called CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). Although synthetic CLA has been a popular weight-loss supplement for years, the natural CLA in grass-fed beef is present at substantially higher levels, making it a more powerful weight-loss aid.
  • Utilizes marginal land – Pastures are not good for raising crops, but they work well for grazing animals.
  • Removes carbon dioxide from the air – Cows are natural environmentalists and landscapers. When they roam and feed on pastures of perennial grasses, they automatically improve the ecosystem by trapping more carbon dioxide underground. This is how it works: cows keep the pastures trimmed which stimulates new growth. Roaming around, their sheer weight crushes the ground and enriches the soil by pushing their manure and other decaying organic materials deeper into the soil. Rich soil retains water and microbes and keeps more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The end result is a net positive contribution to the environment.
  • Improves quality of run-off water – When it rains, run-off water loaded with fertilizers and pesticides from lawns, golf courses, and farms rushes into our waterways –from the smallest streams and lakes to our mightiest rivers and oceans. Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are also a major source of polluting nutrients (known as eutrophication). In contrast, well-managed pastures actually improve the quality of run-off water, causing less problems in aquatic systems. Advocates of grass-fed beef envision small-scale beef production as a patchwork of small herds throughout the country—not just in the traditional, centralized places—munching on the grasses of marginal lands, happily belching and pooping.

When you look more closely at the mountains of research data, it’s easy to see how grass-fed and finished beef can become one of the viable solutions for reducing greenhouse emissions and helping to slow down global climate change.


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