Statement Of The Problem
The growth of industrialized factory farming has been substantial in the past decade. The number of dairy cows on factory farms increased by 100% and the average-sized dairy factory farm increased by 50% between 1997 and 2012. The number of livestock on factory farms rose by 20% between 2002 and 2012. The number of pigs on factory farms increased by more than 33%, and the average farm size grew by more than 70% from 1997 to 2012. The trends are all showing that this practice is growing – and quickly. This demands that attention be paid to the impact it has on the surrounding areas and world as a whole, and many studies have been completed to explore them. Among these, many facts point to the idea that factory farming has negative impacts on the state of human health, socioeconomic status/livelihood of small farmers, and the environment altogether.
Human health effects are multifarious and are described through the following statistics. Animal foods and by-products are the primary source of saturated fat in the diet of most Americans. This type of fat has been connected to both obesity and heart disease (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Various studies have indicated that the unnatural feeds used to encourage accelerated growth in animals on factory farms increase the saturated fat content of meat beyond it’s already high levels. Dairy cows are often given growth hormones in order to increase their milk production. After their milk production slows, these cows are killed to produce and sell beef. The six growth hormones most commonly used within the United States dairy industry have proved to greatly increase the risk of breast, colon, and prostate cancer in those who eat beef. Even conscious consumers are at risk because labelling for use of these hormones is neither required nor regulated. Since the 1950s, antibiotics have been used on factory farms to increase the rate of growth in animals. Today, an estimated 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are given to farm animals for non-therapeutic purposes. Using antibiotics in this way can lead to drug-resistant bacteria; as a result, certain bacterial infections have already become or are on their way to becoming untreatable in humans. Antibiotic resistant infections kill 90,000 Americans every year. Lack of sufficient sanitation and waste management on factory farms can lead to food supply contamination by bacteria like E.coli and salmonella. Annually, 76 million Americans suffer from foodborne illness, and thousands die. Zoonotic diseases are exchangeable from animals to humans, with the potential to turn into pandemics. The outbreak and spread of the H1N1 virus was said by various experts to be caused by the overcrowding of factory farm pigs and the retention of their waste in massive manure lagoons.
Many have examined factory farming’s effects on small farmers too; Nathaneal Johnson’s The Making of the Modern Pig states that the past few years have eliminated over half a million hog farmers; “As large farms replaced small ones, the population of Thornton became too small to warrant its own high school. Now his high school serves as a middle school for both Thornton and three other towns “ (Johnson 2006). There are now four main companies producing the majority of pigs (Swenson 2000). Again, there are only four companies producing the majority of cow products; Eric Schlosser of “Fast Food Nation” states, “In the late 1970s, the top four beef companies controlled about 20 percent of the market; now they control more than 80 percent” (Gardner 2001).
Environmentally speaking, a diet akin to the typical American diets (consisting of all animal products and regular meat consumption) is not sustainable due to the number of resources it demands. “90% of US cropland loses soil at a rate 13 times above the sustainable rate of 1 ton/ha/y… US pastures are losing soil at an average of 6 tons/ha/y. About 60% of United States pasture land is being overgrazed and is subject to accelerated erosion”(Pimentel 1998). Comparing resources necessary to sustain protein requirements in a meat-based diet versus a plant-based diet, it’s seen that the production of 1 kg of animal protein demands 100 times the amount of water than 1 kg of grain protein (Pimentel 1996). This large usage of resources demands more and more land each day, resulting in deforestation equivalent to up to seven football fields per minute (Smithsonian Institution 2002).
Pesticides are yet another factor involved in this style of farming- in fact, meat production accounts for a third of pesticide use (Steinfeld, Henning et al. 2006) and pesticide use has continually been linked to the decline of fragile butterfly populations (Anderson 2013). Founder of Monarch Watch and insect ecologist from the University of Kansas, Orley Taylor, notes that genetically modified corn production in the Midwest United States is responsible for Monarch butterfly decline in that the herbicides used on the crops kill milkweed, the main source of butterflies’ food (Conniff 2013).Yet another consequence of such massive pesticide use is the decline of the honey bee, an essential species in our food system that we depend on for many of our produce (Pesticide Action Network North America 2012). Livestock as a whole are the leading cause of biodiversity decline today (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2006).
The plant-based diet is much more planet-conscious and requires fewer resources to sustain. “The amount of feed grains used to produce the animal products (milk and eggs) consumed in the lactoovovegetarian diet was about half (450 kg) the amount of feed grains fed to the livestock (816 kg) to produce the animal products consumed in the meat-based diet ” (Pimentel 2003). “The research also found that at least 4 billion people could be fed with the crops we currently devote to fattening livestock, fuelling the argument that the over-reliance on meat in the west and among the growing middle classes in the developing world is an increasing problem when it comes to feeding the world” (Harvey 2014) “ according to the Sierra Club, producing one pound of grain-fed beef requires about 16 pounds of wheat and – as staggering as it sounds – 2,500 gallons of water. Furthermore, millions of acres of forest have been cleared worldwide to make room for the large areas of land needed for cattle grazing. In the United States, more than 260 million acres of forest have been cleared to grow crops to feed animals raised for meat. An acre of trees disappears every eight seconds. Tropical rainforests are also being cut to create grazing land for cattle. Fifty-five square feet of rainforest may be destroyed to produce just one quarter-pound burger. Since trees absorb carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas, this significant loss of forest contributes to global warming as well.Soil erosion is also mostly due to the meat industry which, according to the Worldwatch Institute, is directly responsible for 85 percent of all soil erosion in the U.S. because so much grain is needed to feed the animals. Livestock is fed more than 80 percent of the corn and 95 percent of the oats grown by American farmers. The world’ s cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people – more than the entire human population on Earth. The Senate Agricultural Committee revealed that animal waste is the biggest pollution contributor in 60 percent of the streams and rivers in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s impaired category. As a whole, it was stated that animals being raised for food purposes produce 68,000 pounds of waste per second. Major waste pollutants that make their way into our waterways include nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus that can cause massive fish kills; harmful bacteria and viruses; and toxic heavy metals, which are present in some commercial livestock feed.”
Factory farming is an increasingly present method of raising animals for food, with factory farms raising 99.9 percent of chickens used for meat, 97 percent of egg-laying hens, 99 percent of turkeys, 95 percent of pigs, and 78 percent of cattle sold in the United States. 49% of Americans eat meat, with 80% consuming it at least four times per week, equating to around 200 pounds per person per year (Pirello) .
Purpose of the Study
This study is designed with the intent to test the effectiveness of documentaries like Cowspiracy, Earthlings, and Forks Over Knives Cowspiracy, Earthlings, and Forks Over Knives will be the keynote examples used to represent documentaries which present an argument for living a plant-based lifestyle.
General Design of the Study
This study will involve several research methods, including meta-analysis of related previous data, survey research, and evaluation research.
Meta-analysis will involve searching through documentation regarding Forks Over Knives, Earthlings, and Cowspiracy. Other studies that will be consulted includes
Research Questions and Hypotheses
After completing this research, the following question will be addressed: To what extent do documentaries like Forks Over Knives, Earthlings, and Cowspiracy have an impact on perception of vegetarianism and/or veganism for those aged 13-18 in the United States?
It is my belief that through watching one or more of these films, viewers’ perspectives on plant-based diets will change in a positive way. The viewer will either be more apt to consider transitioning to one themselves or at least be more open-minded toward the concept as a whole.
Limitations and Delimitations of the Study
The limitations of this study include time confinements, sample size limits, and the influence of many complex variables on each viewer’s disposition toward the topic. This research will only span over a few months and therefore cannot account for as many samplings as I’d prefer but should provide some new insight into this area as the impact of these films has not been studied in an academic manner previously. The sample size is limited to those within the age confinements of 13-18, but sampling will more than likely only span across Sarasota County. This cannot truly represent all of the adolescents within the United States, but will aim to achieve as random a sampling as possible to avoid bias.
Definition of Terms
In this paper, plant-based will be used as an umbrella term for those diets which abstain from some or all animal by-products (such as veganism and vegetarianism). Veganism is the elimination of all animal by-products from consumption and vegetarianism is the elimination of all meat (including fish) from the diet with the inclusion of dairy and eggs. A pescatarian is one who abstains from all meat except for fish.
Factory farming is used to describe intensive industrialized animal agriculture, or animal husbandry in which very dense quantities of animals are raised for sale. It is a large operation that raises massive numbers of animals for food; they hold large numbers of animals, typically cows, pigs, turkeys, or chickens, often indoors at high densities. The goal and focus of the operation is to produce large quantities of meat, eggs, or milk at the lowest possible cost.
Cowspiracy is a documentary produced by filmmakers Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, who later also created What the Health, a film about preventing chronic disease; Cowspiracy was released in June 2014 and discusses the effects of raising cattle on the environment.
Earthlings is a film released in 2005 and created by filmmaker Shawn Monson. It focuses on animal suffering and unethical practices rather than environmental effects or impacts on human health.
The last film that will be analyzed is Forks Over Knives. It focuses on research from Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. Dr. T. Colin Campbell is the author of The China Study, a book covering a 20-year long study on human health between Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventative Medicine. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease and Yale University graduate, is referenced a great deal for his research. Forks Over Knives as a whole presents an argument that indicates plant-based foods have the potential to prevent and reverse disease when most or all animal products are eliminated from the diet.