When we think of the current environmental crisis, particularly pollution and climate change, we immediately start thinking about the usual suspects: plastics and the fossil fuel industry. We don't think about meat and dairy at all since they are food items grown and raised to nourish us. Many of us believe that farming is a natural process and would not harm the environment.
The reality, however, of the negative impact of animal agriculture on the planet's biodiversity and climate is exposed in this documentary The meat and dairy companies are now outpacing the fossil fuel industry, including companies like ExxonMobil, Shell and BP, as the world's biggest polluters and contributors to climate change.
New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries, with its myriad of stunning and picturesque landscapes. It is also a major global supplier of milk and dairy products, producing approximately 21 billion litres of milk annually from its many dairy farms.
Milk is New Zealand's biggest export product, and food giant Fonterra, the country's biggest company, earns over US$11.5 billion per year. That's a lot of cows, and raising them puts a lot of pressure on the country's natural resources, mainly its freshwater and soil.
A 500 cow dairy, for example, generates over 60,000 pounds of manure daily or about 22 million pounds a year. Cows also pass out methane (which is more harmful than carbon dioxide), and the same 500 cow dairy will emit over 110,000 pounds of methane annually. Cow poop contains phosphorus and nitrogen that can run off into freshwater sources, while bovine methane is a greenhouse gas emission that contributes to climate change.
Unsustainable expansion of dairy farming and needing land to provide cow feed have also led to the slow degradation of vital ecological areas like forests, wetlands, and prairies all over New Zealand.
The number of agricultural livestock in New Zealand is now ten times more than wild animals, driving species extinction rates up and polluting natural waterways. Lake Omapere, for example, is no longer safe to swim or fish in, thanks to pollution from dairy farms upstream.
Beyond that, there is a heavy emotional and psychological toll on many New Zealand dairy farmers due to lingering doubts over the morality and sustainability of the industry. The systemic culling of calves, the financial burden of loan payments, and the sheer exhaustion from their efforts all add up and cause stress and heartbreak.
Switching to a plant-based diet will lessen the demand for meat and dairy-based food items. Many Kiwi dairy farmers have also switched to vegetable milk alternatives such as oat milk or almond milk production. Some are also converting their farms to grow organic vegetables or hemp. A natural, non-synthetic, animal-free dairy milk is now available as well.
Despite the corporate silence on what ails the industry, several eco-friendly and sustainable solutions are on the horizon, but we would have to act now.
Directed by: Amy Taylor