Cowspiracy is an independent documentary film by Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn which manly focuses on the environmental impacts of the livestock industry (particularly the beef industry, which has the biggest impact). It discusses many of the problems that must be faced and suggests that even climate change activists such as Greenpeace are neglecting the impact of the livestock industry because of reasons such as fear of the possible repercussions of drawing focus on the problem. The film was useful in getting a broader knowledge on the consequences of meat consumption on such a large scale.
Image taken from Cowspiracy.com (Animals United Movement 2014)
Annual global meat consumption (Horizon 2014)
- 300 million cattle
- 1.4 billion pigs
- 1 billion sheep and goats
- 3.5 billion ducks and turkeys
- 60 billion chickens
- on average 9 animals per person
- about a third of crops goes to feeding animals
“The USGS estimates that it takes 4,000 to 18,000 gallons of water to produce a juicy hamburger, depending on conditions that cows are raised in. The water doesn’t go directly into your burger; rather, it is used to feed, hydrate, and service cows” (U.S. Geological Survey, 2015).
Deforestation and Land Use
“The total area occupied by grazing is equivalent to 26 percent of the ice free terrestrial surface of the planet. In addition, the total area dedicated to feedcrop production amounts to 33 percent of total arable land. In all, livestock production accounts for 70 percent of all agricultural land and 30 percent of the land surface of the planet” (Steinfeld et al. 1996, p.21).
“70 percent of previous forested land in the Amazon is occupied by pastures, and feedcrops cover a large part of the remainder” (Steinfeld et al. 1996, p.21).
From my research I have realised that it is still disputed how much of an impact the livestock industry has on climate change, the reasons for this are because it is hard to define what is included as part of the livestock industry, because land is required to produce grain for livestock to feed on, partly due to new laws passed after BSE and Foot and Mouth (Monbiot 2010) it is hard to estimate how much of an impact this need for land to grow crops for animals has on deforestation, which is another contributor to increased carbon in the atmosphere. Furthermore, because both industries rely heavily on transportation and the use of machinery in the agriculture industry, it is hard to determine how much the the livestock industry contributes to climate change through industry and exhaust emissions, the film Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret (2014) claims that the livestock industry is the largest contributor of greenhouse gasses, but other information suggests otherwise.
Public perceptions of main problems versus actual impact of each cause of climate change. Image taken from natureworldnews.com (Stallard 2014)
“a standard 550-kg cow produces between 800 to 1,000 litres of emissions, including methane, each day” (Zyga 2008).
Animals (amount of meat per animal)
As different animals contain different amounts of meat I have had to do a lot of research into how much meat each animal contains, the problem with calculating the amount of meat in a pig or cow is that there are different breeds and animals have different diets and vary in size, this makes it quite hard to find an average amount specifically for pigs and cows.
From the ‘barbecue bible’ website (Raichlen 2014) I found a useful infographic and some information on the average amount of meat each cow yields, because there are only a certain amount of types of meat in each animal (e.g. there are only a certain amount of ribs in a cow) I am trying to work the percentages of each meat item from each animal, if I measured how much meat was in an animal by weight (i.e. if a cow yields 400 pounds of meat, if measured by weight, 400 pounds of ribs would count as one cow) it wouldn’t provide an accurate representation of how many animals need to be reared to provide the specific meat products that consumers want.
Image taken from Barbecuebible.com (Raichlen 2015)
Image taken from Templetonbeef.com (Templeton Hills Beef 2015)
As can be seen there are different percentages of meat for each breed of cow, there are also a lot of different food products that can be yielded from a cow, which makes it difficult to produce accurate data.
“With a whole cow you would get 550 pounds of beef. It will be 250 pounds of ground beef, and the other 300 pounds are in cuts like steaks, roasts, ribs, brisket, tenderloin, etc.” (Clover Valley Beef 2014)
So, to summarize: A 1200 steer, ½ inch fat, average muscling, yields a 750 pound carcass. The 750 pound carcass yields approximately:
- 490 pounds boneless trimmed beef
- 150 pounds fat trim
- 110 pounds bone
A specific example of how the 490 pounds of boneless, trimmed beef could break out includes:
- 185 pounds lean trim, or ground beef
- 85 pounds round roasts and steaks
- 90 pounds chuck roasts and steaks
- 80 pounds rib and loin steaks
· 50 pounds other cuts (brisket, flank, short ribs, skirt steak
Information taken from igrow.org (Nold 2013)
Images from modernfarmer.com (Birnbaum 2014) and barrerasmeat.com (Barreras Meat Company 2014)
Image taken from cllocker.com (Hunt 2013)
Animals United Movement, 2014. Infographic. cowspiracy.com, Available from: http://www.cowspiracy.com/infographic [Accessed 6 December 2015].
Are We Changing Planet Earth?, Episode 1, Are We Changing Planet Earth?, 2006. BBC1. 24th May 2006. 21:00.
Barreras Meat Company, 2014. Pork Meats. barrerasmeat.com, Available from: http://barrerasmeat.com/project/pork-meats/ [Accessed 5 December 2015].
BBC News UK, 2010. Backpacks measure cows’ methane. BBC News, BBC. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-10765803 [Accessed 5 December 2015].
Birnbaum, M., 2014. Pork 101: Know Your Cuts. modernfarmer.com, Available from: http://modernfarmer.com/2014/03/pork-101/ [Accessed 5 December 2015].
Clover Valley Beef, 2014. Buying half a cow. How much beef is it?. clovervalleybeef.com, Available from: http://www.clovervalleybeef.com/buying-half-a-cow/ [Accessed 5 December 2015].
Cook, J., 2015. What is methane’s contribution to global warming?. skepticalscience.com, Available from: https://www.skepticalscience.com/methane-and-global-warming.htm [Accessed 5 December 2015].
Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, 2014. Film. Directed by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn. USA: A.U.M. Films.
Horizon, Episode 2, Should I Eat Meat? – How to Feed the Planet, 2014. TV, BBC. 20th August 2014. 21:00.
Hunt, S., 2013. Blog. cllocker.com, Available from: http://www.cllocker.com/blog-1 [Accessed 5 December 2015].
Monbiot, G., 2010. I was wrong about veganism. Let them eat meat – but farm it properly. theguardian.com, The Guardian. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/sep/06/meat-production-veganism-deforestation [Accessed 5 December 2015].
MuchAdoAboutClimate, 2014. How much methane does a cow actually produce?. wordpress, Available from: https://muchadoaboutclimate.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/how-much-methane-does-a-cow-actually-produce/ [Accessed 5 December 2015].
Nold, R., 2013. How Much Meat Can You Expect from a Fed Steer?. igrow, Available from: http://igrow.org/livestock/beef/how-much-meat-can-you-expect-from-a-fed-steer/ [Accessed 5 December 2015].
Scottish Environment Protection Agency, 2015. Scottish Pollutant Release Inventory. apps.sepa.org.uk, SEPA. Available from: http://apps.sepa.org.uk/spripa/Pages/SubstanceInformation.aspx?pid=65 [Accessed 5 December 2015].
Stallard, B., 2014. The Biggest Sources of Greenhouse Gas: Public Perception is Wrong. Nature World News, Available from: http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/10927/20141205/biggest-sources-greenhouse-gas-public-perception-wrong.htm [Accessed 5 December 2015].
Steinfeld, H., Gerber, P., Wassenaar, T. Castel, V., Rosales, M., and Haan, C., 2006. Livestocks Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options.. Rome: FAO. Available from: ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/a0701e/a0701e00.pdf [Accessed 6 December 2015].
Templeton Hills Beef, 2015. Grass Fed Beef from Templeton California on the Central Coast. templetonbeef.com, Available from: http://www.templetonbeef.com/ [Accessed 5 December 2015].
Raichlen, S., 2014. Big Bad Beef Ribs: A Crash Course. barbecuebible.com, Available from: http://barbecuebible.com/2014/05/23/big-bad-beef-ribs/ [Accessed 5 December 2015].
U.S. Geological Survey, 2015. How much water does it take to grow a hamburger?. http://water.usgs.gov/, USGS. Available from: http://water.usgs.gov/edu/activity-watercontent.html [Accessed 4 December 2015].
Zyga, L., 2008. Cow Backpacks Trap Methane Gas. phys.org, Available from: http://phys.org/news/2008-07-cow-backpacks-methane-gas.html [Accessed 5 December 2015].