A new documentary, “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” asks just that question. Has the silence from the Sierra Club, Greenpeace,, the Rainforest Action Network, the National Resources Defense Council, the Surfrider Foundation and Oceana on the environmental impact animal agriculture and animal consumption been bought? Is big animal ag paying hush money to these groups to keep the spotlight off their activities?

As “Cowspiracy” blasts on the screen, animal agriculture (and by extension, animal food consumption) is THE biggest single contributor to green house gas production, water depletion, land degradation, deforestation, species extinction, ocean dead zones and community destabilization.

Yet, where is the outcry from the most powerful environmental groups?

Kip Andersen, co-producer and director of the documentary, tried to find out and made a film about his search. Over and over again his requests for interviews with spokespeople from these groups were rebuffed. As the producer told a recent “Cowspiracy” audience in Oakland, “It’s like there’s this huge cancer on the planet and nobody wants to talk about it.”

Reluctantly, some of the environmental groups relented and agreed to go on camera.

With the appearance of an insecure, scruffy college student, or maybe junior college student, Andersen listened dutifully to the advice from environmental and government spokespeople to turn off the lights when he leaves a room and don’t let the water run while he brushes his teeth.

Finally Andersen confronted them: What about animal agriculture? What about asking people to not eat animal products? Sucking wind, with a deer-in –the- headlights expression, Bruce Hamilton, the Deputy Director of the Sierra Club was eventually able to respond: “What do you want to know?”

Environmental group after environmental group fumbled the question with statements like, “It’s hard to actually target, like, one thing” from Chad Nelson, environmental director of the Surfrider Foundation.

One spokesperson could not contain her amusement, laughing, “Are you talking about cow farts?”

Amazingly, the most honest and clear answers came from the Clover Dairy president and another small dairy farmer who both conceded that milk from pastured dairy cows is not sustainable. There’s just not enough land to produce cow’s milk for everyone, they said. The small dairy farmer even said that probably almond milk and soy milk were going to be the “way to go.”

And perhaps the most telling exchange was between Andersen and the Animal Agriculture Alliance, an industry group. “Do you give donations to environmental groups?” Andersen asked.

The young spokeswoman seemed nervous and said, “I don’t know that I want to comment on that.”

Richard Oppenlander, author of “Comfortably Unaware – What We Choose to Eat is Killing Us and Our Planet,” and Will Anderson, founder of Greenpeace Alaska (but who’s no longer associated with the group) both accused environmental groups of badly failing the public and the ecosystem by not focusing first and foremost on animal agriculture.

Author and omnivore Michael Pollan also said on camera that our survival as a species depends on drastically reducing animal food consumption – to about 2 ounces a week.

But Oppenlander suggested that cutting down is just not going to be enough: “Do you say to somebody who’s got lung cancer, just don’t smoke on Mondays?”

After seeing the screening, I spoke with Kip Andersen and asked if they had been able to absolutely nail down the fact that animal ag is bankrolling these groups and he said so far, no, and that it’s extremely difficult to track it down, because the groups accept donations from individuals, not groups.

“But I can tell you there are some very excellent investigative journalists who are working on that right now,” Andersen said.

Andersen also told me he thought there was probably another reason why these groups have been so quiet on the issue and so reluctant to ask the public to stop eating animals:

“I think they like to eat meat,” he said. “The guy from the Sierra Club told me that he ate grass fed beef and chicken. Grass fed beef? That’s way worse in terms of climate change, than the factory-farmed beef.”

The film suggested yet another reason some groups might be holding back: fear. A spokeswoman for a rainforest group in Brazil very reluctantly said that cattle ranching was the main reason the South American forests (“the lungs of the world”) are being decimated to the tune of an acre per second. She said that some 1100 anti-cattle ranching activists had been killed in Brazil and that now most people “keep their mouths shut because they don’t want to be the next one with a bullet in their head.”

A couple of years ago, I was able to ask founder Bill McKibbon — since animal agriculture was the biggest contributor to global warming — how come he didn’t talk about it in the lecture he gave in Marin County.

McKibbon got mad and said, “The biggest growth in animal food consumption is coming from the Third World. How can we ask people who are just now getting to enjoy eating meat that they can’t have it?”

I thought that was odd.

Anyway, the “Cowspiracy” message seems to be starting to get through. The Huffington Post reported that following the film’s release in July, the “Rainforest Action Network” has now admitted that “critics were fair to lambaste the organization for not making animal agriculture a priority.”

“Cowspiracy” trailer:

The film will be shown in Oakland on Saturday August. 23 at 3 p.m. at the New Parkway Theater, 474 24th Street, Oakland, California.

Other upcoming screenings:

8/21 – New York City –
8/21 – Mount Pleasant, SC – *sold out*
8/21 – Lompoc, CA –
8/21 – Talahassee, FL –
8/21 – Providence, RI –
8/21 – San Antonio, TX –
8/21 – Chicago – *sold out* (2nd screening added on 9/4)
8/21 – Arcata, CA –
8/21 – Ottawa, Canada –
8/25 – Austin, TX – *sold out*
8/25 – Valparaiso, IN –
8/27 – Lansing, MI –
8/27 – Grand Rapids, MI –
8/28 – Wilmington, NC –
8/28 – Cleveland Heights, OH –
8/28 – San Jose, CA –
8/28 – Cotati, CA –
8/28 – Sacramento, CA –
8/28 – Tucson, AZ –
9/3 – Boca Raton, FL –
9/3 – Springfield, MO –
9/3 – Dallas, TX –
9/4 – Batavia, IL –
9/4 – Berlin, CT –
9/4 – Chicago, IL –
9/4 – Fairfield, CT –
9/4 – Ft. Lauderdale, FL –
9/4 – Oklahoma City, OK –
9/4 – Huntington Beach, CA –
9/4 – Reno, NV –
9/5 – Toronto, Canada (Veg Food Fest) –
9/8 – Coralville, IA –
9/8 – Waterbury, CT –
9/10 – Montreal, Canada –
9/10 – Eatontown, NJ –
9/10 – Philadelphia, PA –
9/10 – Chesterfield, MO –
9/10 – Phoenix, AZ –
9/11 – Altamonte Springs, FL –
9/11 – South Miami, FL –
9/11 – Indianapolis, IN –
9/11 – Owings Mills, MD –
9/11 – Huntsville, AL –
9/11 – North Hollywood, CA –
9/12 – Ottawa, Canada –
9/12 – Toronto, Canada –
9/16 – Houston, TX –
9/17 – Asheville, NC –
9/18 – Greenville, SC –
9/18 – Colorado Springs, CO –
9/18 – Las Vegas, NV –
9/18 – Grass Valley, CA –
9/18 – Portland, OR –
9/18 – Cambridge, MA –
9/18 – Kansas City, MO –
9/23 – Charleston, SC (free!) –
9/23 – Alberta, Canada –
9/23 – Washington, DC –
9/25 – Gainesville, FL –
9/25 – Kingston, NY –
9/25 – Plymouth Meeting, PA –
9/25 – Charlotte, NC –
9/25 – St. Louis Park, MN –
9/27 – Charleston, SC (free!) –
9/29 – Albany, NY –
9/29 – Burlington, VT –
9/29 – Agoura Hills, CA –
10/1 – Wilder, VT –
10/2 – South Portland, ME –
10/2 – Birmingham, AL –
10/15 – Erie, PA –

– A Vicious Vegan blog post –

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