Cowspiracy: The film environmental organisations don’t want you to see
- Published: 03 May 2014
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So controversial is the subject matter of a new eco-documentary that funders backed out and many environmental groups refused to give interviews to the filmmakers. Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn talk to Alison Waters about their inspiration for making the film, the setbacks they faced – and overcame – to get it produced and the dirty secret that few people in the sustainability movement want to address.
3 May 2014
“I’ve always cared about the planet. I did everything that the big environmental organisations recommended, like driving less, turning off lights and conserving water wherever I could,” says Kip Andersen, explaining the inspiration behind the feature-length documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret.
“But when I found out that animal agriculture was the leading cause of water pollution, rainforest destruction, desertification, and virtually every other environmental ill on the planet, I was shocked that the organisations I had trusted weren't talking about it.
“I sent off email after email, and made call after call, to find out why they weren't talking about this issue, but no one would answer my questions. So I teamed up with Keegan [Kuhn] and we took cameras into their offices to ask them in person.”
Cowspiracy follows Andersen on a journey as he discovers this devastating impact large-scale animal agriculture is having on the planet, and explores why leading environmental organisations refuse to talk about it.
Based in the San Francisco Bay Area where many of the world's largest environmental organisations base their offices, Andersen and Kuhn also travelled extensively to film interviews and investigate the inconvenient truth that even Al Gore ignored for years.
Kuhn admits he was in the dark about the extent of the effects on the planet from animal agriculture. “I felt I was really well informed on the impacts of animal agriculture before starting to work on the film with Kip, but as we did more research I was shocked to find out how bad it truly is,” he tells The Scavenger.
“The incredibly far-reaching destruction caused by animal agriculture is almost overwhelming. What I found the most shocking is that land-based animal agriculture is the leading cause of ocean ‘dead zones’ due to the massive pollution runoff from factory farms, and all the fields of chemically raised feed crops that the animals are fed.”
Yet environmental groups are not addressing the problem. Nor, does it appear, that they want to. The making of the film was plagued with controversy and setbacks.
“Getting interviews with these organisations was an arduous task”, says Andersen. “It took months to get anywhere.”
After considerable effort, the pair managed to secure interviews with many of the major environmental NGOs including Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Surfrider, and Rainforest Action Network.
But neither Andersen nor Kuhn were prepared for the reactions they received from many of these groups that campaign for sustainability (with the exception of conservation groups Sea Shepherd and Pacific Institute which were keen to support the film).
“Some organisations were incredibly resistant or outright refused to discuss the topic, while others seemed completely oblivious to what animal agriculture is doing to our planet,” says Kuhn.
Anderson adds: “In some of the interviews, we spent almost the entire time educating the organisation’s directors about animal agriculture and the destruction it’s causing, even though it’s their job to know these things!”
Yet what shocked Andersen the most was the government’s efforts to silence activists trying to expose the animal agriculture industry’s secrets.
“There are entirely new ‘Ag-Gag’ laws being created to silence whistleblowers who document and reveal all the atrocities animal agriculture is responsible for. It's a pretty shocking and troubling issue that there are laws preventing us from knowing how food is raised,” he says.
This conspiracy on the part of agribusiness, government and environmental groups to keep the devastation, as well as horrendous animal cruelty, hidden resulted in traditional funding sources pulling out of the film.
“We had a few grants and foundations interested, but they all backed out when they realised how controversial this subject is. I ended up funding the film entirely on my own,” says Andersen. “We had to stay silent about the film during its production because we were afraid of getting shut down.”
Fortunately there are plenty of everyday heroes who want to see this film made. Andersen and Kuhn have received an “incredible outpouring of support” for their crowdfunding campaign and on the Cowspiracy website to enable the film’s release next month.
“It really has been phenomenal!” says Kuhn. “We are so, so thankful to everyone who is helping to get this film out to the world.”
Packed with notable authors weighing in on the subject, including Michael Pollan and Dr Richard Oppenlander, the aim of the film is to “educate, inspire and empower” people, says Kuhn.
“We first and foremost want to inform as many people as possible about this destructive industry. But I’d say the overall message is that we want to empower people to feel they can actually do something to help the environment, rather than feeling helpless at the mercy of what industries are doing to our planet.”
Meanwhile Andersen hopes that the film will motivate people to act. “We want to inspire people to speak up and take a stand!”
The premier of Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is planned for 19 June in San Francisco, followed by a nationwide tour of screenings. International screenings will take place if the required funds are raised.
The film’s crowdfunding campaign continues until 4 June. To contribute to the crowdfunding campaign (and obtain a download of the film), go to igg.me/at/cowspiracy.
UPDATE: The Sydney, Australia premiere of Cowspiracy will be screened at the TWO EARTHS event, organised by Films for Change, on Saturday 16 August. The event also features guest speakers Dr Stuart White, director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology, Sydney and Dr Marilyn Golden, health and wellness expert. Book tickets here.