The official Cowspiracy website lists a great deal of references which are aimed at supporting the arguments and conclusions proposed in the film. The categories for the supporting documents include Ocean, Wildlife, Land, Waste, Water, Greenhouse Gases, Rainforest and Humanity. The documents listed in the Rainforest facts section describe the importance of rainforest ecosystems and demonstrate the negative implications that poor land use – such as monoculture farming, cattle ranching, conversions deforestation and development – have on rainforest ecosystems. We’ve devised a terse summation of the curated Cowspiracy texts with the hope of illustrating the ecological costs associated with unsustainable agriculture.

Ecological Degradation

Rainforest ecosystems are inhabited by more plant and animal species than any other terrestrial ecosystem. The Cowspiracy Facts Page states in one of its Rainforest subtitles that “the leading cause of rainforest destruction are livestock and feed crops”. Clearing forests to make way for land pastures and agriculture feed plots is done in Costa Rica, Honduras, and El Salvador to meet the demand for American beef. Cattle ranching is a low cost, low maintenance operation to run in the tropics that generates profit for land owners, farmers and distributors. Nonetheless, livestock feeding plots require sections of forests and other vegetation to be cleared first to make space for pastures and animal crops. Clearing vegetation can increases risks to the various the process that rainforest vegetation help carry out, including enhanced water absorption into soils, sequestration of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, calling rainfall, providing nutrients to plant eating species and serving as habitats for arboreal species. These are examples of ecosystem services provided to rainforest environments and the species within them. Services like these emerge from the biological, chemical and physical functions in rainforest environments.

wild tropical flowers
tropical flowers

“What Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” Says About Rainforests

The growth of human populations has driven our demand for food and textiles to rise, which has perpetuated our use of tropical forests. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), agriculture approximately 15% of the Amazon forest has been removed due to agricultural practices since 1960s. Of the land being used by humans, 80% of it is dedicated to grazing areas for horses, cattle, sheep, or pigs. Put another way, cattle ranching for agriculture is the central use of land in the Amazon basin, which includes Brazil, Peru and Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Guyana, Surinam and French Guyana. These regions are subjected to slash and burn clearing before feeding pastures can be established. Therefore, cattle ranching is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon Basin. Couple this with methane emissions, ocean dead zones and air quality concerns, and livestock farming’s threats become apparent.

Save The Amazon

Savetheamazon.org refers to the plant and animal species of the Amazonian rainforests as its “wealth’. The site posits that up to 80% of the developed nation’s diets are sourced from tropical rainforests. Our fruits, (avocados, coconuts, figs, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, pineapples, and tomatoes) vegetables (corn, potatoes and yams) spices, (cayenne, chocolate, cinnamon, ginger, sugar cane, turmeric) have their origins in tropical ecosystems. Without the contributions of these terrestrial environments, the diets of developed nations would be severely restricted. However, the continued functionality of tropical rainforests depends on how sustainably we use the land. Harvesting from rainforests faster than they are able to naturally replenish themselves may contribute to permanent changes of the ecological structures within them. In order to harvest sustainably for growing human populations, land must be used efficiently.

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