We’re always on the lookout for others who are, like us, exposing the truth about factory farming. So we were pretty pleased to come across the little-known Belgian documentary LoveMEATender (a clever play on the famous Elvis Presley song), which lifts the lid on the intensive-livestock industry using a potent mix of science and charm.
As we know all too well, the impacts of factory farming are extremely damaging. Not only does the system abuse animals, keeping them in intense – and often filthy – confinement, but it’s also bad news for our health and the environment.
The 2011 documentary-film LoveMEATender, directed by Manu Coeman, is a concise exposé of this wretched system. It tells a very shocking story using clear statistics, playful cartoons and a passionate cast of characters – the experts interviewed range from farmers and scientists to philosophers.
Mind the gap
The scene-setter is that meat consumption in the West is not only excessive, but on the rise. Yet there remains an appalling disconnect between humans and the animals many of us consume. "We eat meat, but killing animals doesn’t exist", says philosopher Florence Burgat. It’s a haunting statement that tells of a huge knowledge gap in society. We no longer understand how our food gets from farm to fork, and how that process affects the planet and its inhabitants. What the film does brilliantly is to help fill that gap.
It just doesn’t add up
As LoveMEATender explains, one of the great illusions of factory farming is that it’s cheap. In fact, shipping feed from every corner of the globe and paying for antibiotics and supplements hardly make for a cost-effective business.
But the costs of factory farming are being artificially lowered; government subsidies to encourage greater productivity in livestock farming make the process appear better value than it really is. As the environmental activist Dr Vandana Shiva puts it: "The industry is able to turn an unproductive system into the illusion of a productive system by hiding the real cost".
And then there are the hidden costs – for example, the diseases brought about by meat-heavy diets, the environmental destruction the system causes, and the financial burden that we, as taxpayers, face to clean up the mess that's left behind.
Unhealthy people, unhealthy planet
The link between factory farming and the spate of public-health problems in the West is made painfully clear in LoveMEATender. Heart disease, diabetes, depression, cancer and obesity, it says, are all linked to eating too much meat – particularly factory-farmed meat, which has been shown to contain lower levels of key nutrients and higher levels of fat (1). That well-known phrase "you are what you eat" springs to mind.
The film goes on to show hard-to-swallow undercover footage that reveals the cramped and often-dirty conditions animals endure in factory farms. It is these conditions that make intensive systems the perfect breeding grounds for pathogens, including Salmonella and E. coli. "It’s like we’re having an epidemic of epidemics", says Professor David Waltner-Toews.
Also at peril is the health of the planet; our ruthless food system is ravaging finely balanced ecosystems. Whether it’s the vast quantities of grain grown abroad and then flown across continents to feed livestock, the huge volumes of water needed to produce every kilo of meat we consume or the illegal dumping of manure that pollutes rivers and oceans, factory farming is causing untold damage to our fragile planet.
A brighter future?
What the film does so well is to balance a picture of desperation with one of hope. And it isn’t just the light-hearted animations and quirky soundtrack that achieve this; far more than these things, it’s the optimism of its fine set of characters. These experts believe that the key to a sustainable food system is small-scale farming, which would bring diversity to the countryside, enrich and educate communities, and improve the wellbeing of countless people – and animals – across the globe.
We must ensure farming is modernised, not industrialised.
Dr Baba Dioum
Yvan Beck, who developed the idea for the film and wrote the screenplay, believes that LoveMEATender will foster greater understanding of the stories behind the food on our plates. In his own words, the film should "encourage everyone to take individual and collective responsibility".
But the final words must go to agricultural expert Dr Baba Dioum, who says: "We must ensure farming is modernised, not industrialised". Brilliantly put.