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As California experiences a massive drought, we examine the overlooked link
between water shortages, climate change and meat consumption. With some 98
percent of the state suffering from a water crisis, California Gov. Jerry Brown
ordered residents and businesses to cut water use by 25 percent. It is the first
mandatory statewide reduction in California's history. One group not facing
restrictions is big agriculture, which uses about 80 percent of California's
water. According to The Pacific Institute, 47 percent of a Californians' water
footprint is in meat and dairy products. We are joined by Kip Andersen and
Keegan Kuhn, directors of the documentary, "Cowspiracy: the Sustainability
Secret." The film contends livestock is the leading cause of deforestation,
water consumption and pollution despite many environmental organizations'
relative silence on the issue.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AARON MATÉ: One of the worst droughts in decades continues to ravage California.
Some 98 percent of the state is now suffering from a water crisis. Last week,
California Governor Jerry Brown ordered residents and businesses to cut water
use by 25 percent. It's the first mandatory statewide reduction in California's
history. One group not facing restrictions is big agriculture, which uses about
80 percent of California's water. Some have criticized Brown for not capping
water usage by corporate farms that grow water-intensive crops such as almonds,
pistachios, and alfalfa hay which is exported to China to help feed the
country's growing herd of dairy cows. A recent documentary looks at the link
between climate change and livestock. The documentary is called, "Cowspiracy:
the Sustainability Secret." It contends livestock is the leading cause of
deforestation, water consumption and pollution despite many environmental
organizations' relative silence on the issue. This is part of the film's
DR. RICHARD OPPENLANDER: There is suppression and mismanagement of information
everywhere. It abounds.
INTERVIEWEE 1: It starts at the local level, but then it goes all the way to
INTERVIEWEE 2: When you consider the devastation it's having on our planet as
well as the oceans.
DR. WILL TUTTLE: We're in the middle of the largest mass extinction of species
in 65 million years.
INTERVIEWEE 3: They can dictate the federal policies because they have so much
WILL POTTER: One of the largest industries on the planet, the biggest
environment impact, trying to keep us in the dark about how it is operating.
DR. WILL TUTTLE: That's the one thing no one talks about. You know, everybody
goes around and --
RECORDED VOICE: Unfortunately, we are no longer able to fund your film project.
We had a meeting and due to the growing controversial subject matter we have
some concerns and have to pull out.
WILL POTTER: You're going up against people who have massive legal resources and
you have nothing.
INTERVIEWEE 3: A lot of people just keep their mouth shut because they don't
want to, they don't want to be the next one with a bullet to their head.
AMY GOODMAN: That was part of the trailer for the recent documentary, "Cowspiracy:
the Sustainability Secret." According to The Pacific Institute, 47 percent of a
Californian's water footprint is in meat and dairy products. For more, we go now
to San Francisco, California where we're joined by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn.
They are the award-winning directors of the documentary film. Kip Andersen and
Keegan Kuhn, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about what is causing the drought in
California and what you have documented, you believe contributes so much to it.
KEEGAN KUHN: You know, the drought in California is being caused primarily from
climate change and there is not enough rainfall. Average rainfall has decreased.
But really what we're dealing with is water shortage, not only just a drought.
California is using more water than it actually has available to it. And as you
said, 47 percent of a California's water footprint is made up in meat and dairy
products. So these are very water intensive products, and that Californians and
Americans are consuming which, again, is exacerbating the already drought
AARON MATÉ: And Keegan, how does livestock compare to other environmental
dangers like fracking, for example?
KEEGAN KUHN: You know, fracking is a great example. Fracking gets a lot of
attention because of water use. Fracking uses about 100 billion gallons of water
every year in the U.S., which is a tremendous amount of water, but animal
agriculture uses in excess of 34 trillion gallons. So it's magnitudes greater.
And then again the emissions that come from animal agriculture are about equal
to natural gas and petroleum production. So it's an issue that is vastly more
destructive when it comes to water consumption, water pollution, and even
AMY GOODMAN: Let's go to a clip from "Cowspiracy." Here our guest, Kip Anderson,
the film's Co-director, explains how much water goes into producing a hamburger.
KIP ANDERSON: I found out that one quarter pound hamburger requires over 660
gallons of water to produce. Here I've been taking the short showers trying to
save water and to find out just eating one hamburger is equivalent of showering
two entire months. So much attention is given to lowering our home water use,
yet domestic water use is only 5 percent of what is consumed in the U.S. versus
55 percent for animal agriculture. That's because it takes upwards of 2500
gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. I went on the government's
Department of water resources save our water campaign where it outlines behavior
changes to help conserve our water like using low flow shower heads, efficient
toilets, water saving appliances, and fix leaky faucets and sprinkler heads, but
nothing about animal agriculture. When added up, all of the government's
recommendations, I was saving 47 gallons a day but still that is not even close
to the 660 gallons of water for just one burger.
AMY GOODMAN: That's Kip Andersen in the film "Cowspiracy." Kip is with us as
well, in San Francisco. So how does the mandate, the 25 percent decrease in
water, affect -- does it affect animal agriculture, as you call it?
KIP ANDERSON: It actually doesn't affect animal agriculture. It's placing
restrictions on people using --- on not watering their lawns and doing anything
you can. You go to restaurants and you have to ask for water, simple things like
this, taking short showers. And another thing we mentioned later in the film is
that to produce one gallon of milk takes 1000 gallons of water. So rather than
AMY GOODMAN: Why is that?
KIP ANDERSON: -- being concerned about having one glass of water, let's cut down
on the dairy as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Why is that? Why does it take that much water?
KIP ANDERSON: It takes that much water because the animals have to be fed grains
or feed of some type. Alfalfa is an incredibly water-intensive crop. Actually
uses -- alfalfa which is fed primarily to livestock -- uses 10 percent of all of
California's water -- or 15 percent, excuse me. So the water footprint that's
embedded in the products that the animals are eating goes on to animal product
and then on to the consumer. So again, looking at a pound of beef in California
takes from 2500 to 8000 gallons of water to produce. These are extremely water
AMY GOODMAN: Well, in this clip from "Cowspiracy," we hear from a Dr. Richard
Oppenlander and Dr. Will Tuttle. They described how animal agriculture is
leading to the extension of species and destruction of large swaths of forested
DR. RICHARD OPPENLANDER: Concerned researchers of the loss of species agree that
the primary cause of loss of species on earth that we are witnessing is due to
overgrazing and habitat loss from livestock production on land and by
overfishing, which I call phishing in our oceans.
DR. WILL TUTTLE: We are in the middle of the largest mass extinction of species
in 65 million years. The rain forest is being cut down at the rate of an acre
per second and the driving force behind all of this is animal agriculture,
cutting down the forests to graze animals and grow soybeans, genetically
engineered soybeans to feed to the cows and pigs and chickens and factory farmed
AARON MATÉ: Keegan, can you comment on this, how livestock actually contributes
to the extinction of other parts of the species on a mass scale?
KEEGAN KUHN: You know, it's the the destruction that's happening to the entire
ecosystems, as Dr. Tuttle says, massive areas of the rain forest, Amazonian rain
forest, being cleared for cow production. They look at up to 91 percent of
Amazon destruction is linked to animal agriculture in some way, whether clearing
land to create grazing or for growing soy and corn that is then fed to those
livestock. But it's also -- when you look in the United States, we have public
land grazing where animals are grazed on federal lands and those animals then
compete with native fauna for vegetation and then they're also predated on by
wolves and coyotes, bears and bobcats. And so the ranchers put pressure on
government officials to exterminate. And that's why we've seen a decrease in
wolf population and why wolves are being targeted because of their threat or
perceived threat to the cattle industry.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, there's been a lot of discussion about the amount of
water it takes to grow almonds. Can you talk about how meat consumption compares
to vegetable consumption of water?
KEEGAN KUHN: Absolutely. Ten percent of all water in California is used for
almonds, which is a tremendous amount of water. But again, just alfalfa alone, a
crop that is not consumed by human beings, that is fed for livestock, consumes
15 percent. California produces 82 percent of the world's entire almonds. This
is -- again 10 percent of California's water is feeding the 82 percent of the
world's almond demands. And the other important fact is that Americans aren't
consuming, and Californians in particular, aren't consuming nine ounces of
almonds per day, which is not the case for animal agriculture. Animal products
we're consuming nine ounces per person per day in the United States. Again the
water footprint is vastly greater because of the quantity that we are actually
consuming. It takes about 1500 gallons of water to produce a pound of almonds,
which is a tremendous amount of water. But again it's the quantity that we're
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about the response of environmental groups to
your argument. In "Cowspiracy," you interview members of some of the nation's
leading environment or groups. When you ask them, what is the leading cause of
environmental degradation, most declined to comment at any length.
ANN NOTTHOFF: The leading cause of environmental degradation is, um --
BRUCE HAMILTON: We need to address that as well.
KAMYAR GUIVETCHI: It is not up to the Department of Water Resources.
CHAD NELSEN: It is hard to actually target one thing.
LINDSEY ALLEN: I don't necessarily know what it is.
AARON MATÉ: That's a clip from "Cowspiracy." Kip, your assessment of how the
environmental groups have handled this issue of livestock's effect on the
KIP ANDERSON: It is frustrating. That's where the film took a turn for -- looking
to these organizations to tell us the answers and what they're doing about this.
And to find out they're really not doing anything. You go onto these
organizations' websites and their mission statements and they don't mention the
greatest destruction across the board. It is like one-stop shop for nearly every
single environmental destruction that's happening today is from this one
industry, and yet you do not hear about this or they don't want to talk about
this. And the interviews we have in the film, a lot of people, when they see
them they're laughing, but if it's not so serious it would be a lot more
humorous. But it is, it's very serious. And these are the organizations we have
to look at to step up and tell the truth, just to share the information of
what's really going on.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Will Potter who reports on animal rights and
environmental movements. He's the author of, "Green is the New Red: An Insider's
Account of a Social Movement Under Siege." In this clip from your film, "Cowspiracy,"
Will Potter discusses the government's repression of animal rights activists.
WILL POTTER: The animal agriculture industry is one of the most powerful
industries on the planet. I think most people in this country are aware of the
influence of money and industry on politics, and we really see that clearly on
display with this industry in particular. Most people would be shocked to learn
that animal rights and environmental activists are the number one domestic
terrorism threat according to the FBI.
INTERVIEWER: And why is that?
WILL POTTER: It's a difficult question to answer, why these groups are at the
top of the FBI's priorities. I think a big part of it is that they, more than
really any other social movements today, are directly threatening corporate
AMY GOODMAN: That's will Potter in the film, "Cowspiracy." And Keegan, if you
could respond to that and end with why you call the film "Cowspiracy."
KEEGAN KUHN: There is a tremendous amount of repression activists face for
blowing the whistle against this industry. There is a series of ag-gag laws that
have been passed around the U.S. that criminalize exposing the atrocities being
committed against animals and the environment on factory farms. And this is
because the government and this industry work hand-in-hand oftentimes. The
government -- this industry is so powerful, it can put pressure on Congress to
pass legislation that doesn't benefit consumers and only benefits the industry.
We joked around about the title "Cowspiracy" for a while because it just seemed
so ridiculous that nobody would talk about this issue. But you know, it really
starts to come out and it's something we explore in the film in depth that this
issue is so rooted in so many environmental ills, as Kip said, no matter what
issue you care about, whether it's ocean dead zones, species extinction, habitat
destruction, rain forest distraction, literally the list goes on and on, animal
agriculture is at the forefront of the issue. Why aren't these organizations
talking about it? And again, it's something that we explore in depth in the
film. And we really encourage people to go to our website, cowspiracy.com, to
find out more and to look at all of the facts. We have a fact sheet on our
website, cowspiracy.com, that has all of the information that we used in the
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both, Keegan Kuhn and Kip Andersen,
award-winning directors of the documentary film "Cowspiracy: the Sustainability