Animal agriculture is the largest cause of biodiversity loss and deforestation globally – it’s also violating the rights of Indigenous peoples
By Chris Jordan on June 09, 2023
On Friday, May 26, we had the honor of premiering a new documentary called PATROL at the Mountainfilm festival in Telluride. While this was a celebration for us, it’s been a long and difficult road because of the sensitive nature of the film, which exposes the Nicaraguan beef industry’s role in human rights violations and deforestation in one of the most biodiverse places in the world. This film is illegal to screen in Nicaragua, so to be able to show this to the attendees of Mountainfilm – and to get such an overwhelming show of support – was a real honor and an amazing experience for us.
The film highlights what is the largest driver of biodiversity loss globally and among the largest drivers of climate change: the animal agriculture industry. It’s the cause of at least one-third of the planet’s increase in temperature as the result of climate change. It emits more carbon dioxide than the entire transport sector combined. And emits far more than one-third of the global methane emissions on the planet.
PATROL is a case study from Nicaragua that very clearly shows the damaging results for local people and the wild when local development models are based on cattle production and extractive industries.
In the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve and globally, Nicaragua has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world as the result of clearing for cattle production and cattle feed. Indigenous peoples are being pushed further and further out of their territories and toward the coast. The cattle industry is destroying the biodiversity and ecosystem they depend on for their culture and their livelihoods.
The cattle industry is a significant source of revenue for the country and the Nicaraguan government. Nicaragua was the 3rd largest exporter of beef to the United States during the pandemic. This means that American consumers are providing a significant economic life raft to this government.
In the United States, beef produces only 18 percent of our calories. This makes no economic sense. It makes no sense for our planet. The animal agriculture issue is one of scalability. How do we feed our planet when the population is going to continue to increase in the years to come? To scale animal agriculture up to 1.5 billion cows just doesn’t work. The math doesn’t add up. We don’t have the room on our planet for this, unless we are willing to destroy the places that sustain life on this planet. It’s important to focus on multiple threats, but this is the one issue that must be a huge part of the solution.
The result of deforestation for the global animal agriculture industry, among other extractive industries? We’re seeing weather patterns this year we’ve never seen in our history. There is an event happening right now called the super El Niño and it’s expected that at least for this year we’ll cross the 1.5 degree threshold and we’ll see severe weather patterns and warming like we’ve never seen before. The massively destructive hurricane we experienced while filming PATROL was both the largest hurricane in the season on record and the most sudden hurricane – both factors tied to climate change and biodiversity loss. This is all a preview of what’s to come if we don’t act as a planet to address some of these issues at a fundamental level.
Following forest fires that burned 13,500 acres of Indio Maíz in 2018, protestors marched in the streets of Managua, Nicaragua’s capital, against what they felt was an insufficient government response to the destruction of this tropical nature preserve that is home to Rama Iindigenous people and afro-descendent Kriol people, as well as significant biodiversity and threatened species.
The government responded with violence, which has led to thousands of people being jailed, more than 300,000 people having to leave the country and Indigenous peoples getting killed. Yet beef exports continue to go up – nearly 50 percent of this beef (352 million pounds) went to the United States in 2021. In March alone, it was 15 million pounds – from a country the size of Mississippi. In this context of repression, censorship, and the murder of people in the streets, the United States is buying $400 million a year in beef from Nicaragua.
Re:wild is dedicated to looking for alternatives to meat production and to moving this conversation forward to save our planet, and to supporting Indigenous peoples like Armando John – a Rama ranger from Indio-Maíz featured in PATROL – who are out there on the front lines, risking their lives.
The making of the film has deeply affected the lives of the communities and the filmmakers. We’ve all had to find the courage to move forward because of what all of us and our families could be exposed to for speaking out in this way.
Camilo de Castro, one of the co-directors of the film, is living in exile with his citizenship stripped from him by his home country of Nicaragua, as is Armando John, who has left the country with his wife and children, but whose extended family is still there. Despite the risks, the Rama community feels like they’ve done all they can and still nothing is happening, so they’ve asked us to take this story to the world stage as a way to garner international support.
We made this film to honor the work of the Rama and Kriol rangers. We can’t go back to Indio Maíz, but we are proud to share this story.
Leading up to the climate change COP, we’ll be pushing to get animal agriculture on the agenda, especially because it is always ignored at that level. In a lot places, it’s political suicide to stand up to the animal agriculture lobbies and to these companies. We want to work with politicians that are willing to speak out about the effects of the industry and willing to speak out about a different model for local development that focuses on alternatives. In the United States, we applaud the lawmakers taking the lead on this, including Mayor Eric Adams from New York City and Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey who consume plant-based diets and speak openly about these threats.
In Latin America, we’re looking for leadership from tropical countries at the jurisdictional level, whether it’s a mayor or governor, that will come out and say that in their jurisdiction they’re going to think differently about this economic development model. It’s really powerful to have systems that everyone can push forward together and case studies where you can show the actual economic and social benefits of transitioning away from destructive models.
And we need your help.
The only way you can ensure that you are not buying conflict beef from major retailers is to increase plants in your diet and explore meat and dairy alternatives. The biggest positive impact we can have on the planet is removing meat from our diets. This may be an unpopular suggestion, but it’s the reality. Regardless of your political affiliation, you likely don’t want to be buying products that are causing human rights violations and destroying our planet. I think we can all get behind that.
The other thing you can do is to push for better legislation. Congress is working on deforestation-free procurement legislation called the U.S. Forest Act that would make it illegal for companies to import beef that is causing deforestation or violating human rights. We’re hoping that this film shows the true cost of beef and the cost of not knowing where your beef comes from.
To learn more about legislation go to patrolmovie.com where you can:
Sign a petition to demand greater transparency and stricter controls of Nicaragua’s beef chains.Learn how to spread the word about the film.
Explore legislative solutions.
Dr. Christopher Jordan is a researcher and conservationist who specializes in biodiversity conservation, protected area site security, Indigenous peoples and conservation, and developing the capacity of local partners in the Americas. He is strongly interested in community-based conservation, citizen science, site security, Indigenous rights, and applying interdisciplinary conservation philosophies. His work has spanned from working closely with Indigenous communities on Indigenous-led conservation and restoration programs, to collaborating with the private sector in Latin America to develop conservation platforms, to developing government level initiatives and campaigns with government institutions at UNFCCC COP.