Natalie Portman documentary "Eating Animals" explores rise of so-called factory farming

Natalie Portman on factory farming, Weinstein

Last Updated Jun 15, 2018 11:00 AM EDT

Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman has graced the silver screen for the majority of her life, entertaining audiences at the age of 12 in her first film "Léon: The Professional" and continuing to make her mark on Hollywood through "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace," "Black Swan" and "Jackie." Portman is also a longtime animal rights and environmental activist. 

Her new documentary explores the rise of so-called factory farming in America and some of the potential alternatives to meat. The film is an adaptation of the 2009 best-selling book, "Eating Animals," by Jonathan Safran Foer, which Portman said was an "eye opening" read. 

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Natalie Portman CBS News

"He... is writing letters to these companies producing the meat saying, 'Can I see how the meat is produced because I want to know whether to feed it to my kids or not.' Which is, you know, if you called Welch's grape juice or Lay's potato chips, they'd take you on a tour of their factory. And it's completely closed, the meat industry, you cannot see behind the curtain," Portman said Friday on "CBS This Morning." 

"It's because [the conditions] would be appalling to any of us," Portman added. "And it's 99-point-something percent. It's almost all meat is produced this way and dairy and eggs." 

The factory farms are not what an average person might envision of a farm, Portman said: "We think grass, and a barn, and a farmer." 

"This is mass-produced animals in very, very tight conditions. Millions together and not being able to roam."

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In the documentary, they spoke with industry experts and advocates about our country's eating habits. Not only are the conditions of these farms concerning, they can also have a toxic impact on the environment, Portman said. 

"It's the number one contributor to pollution, more than cars. I mean if you care about the environment, you should care about factory farming and, you know, changing farming practices," Portman said.   

"The people who used to do it well, the real farmers, the American farmers, salt-of-the-earth people, are not being supported," Portman said. "And it's a really corporate system that's pushing them out and creating a very inhumane way of creating our food."  

Eating Animals - Official Trailer | HD | Sundance Selects by IFC Films on YouTube

"Eating Animals" is in select theaters Friday. 

We reached out to several agencies and associations in the meat and farming industries for their reactions, which are published in full below: 

USDA

USDA does not dictate the size of farms. That is determined by private property owners and the free market. A successful agricultural industry is vital to our nation. The average age of farmers is increasing, and USDA is focused on helping ensure the success of new farmers joining this vital industry to continue the legacy of caring for our land and forests, and producing the food and fiber upon which our nation depends. We at USDA provide this critical support to both beginning and established farmers through a variety of voluntary programs. This past fiscal year, USDA provided loans to more than 25,000 beginning or socially disadvantaged farmers. While pursuing a new career in farming may seem daunting, we have created a new website, located at newfarmers.usda.gov, to make it easier to connect new farmers with the grant programs and USDA resources they need to succeed. And, while the success of the agricultural sector is vital to our nation, so too is being good stewards of our land to ensure future production. Through its natural resources conservation efforts, USDA helps ensure the health of our air, water, soil, and habitat so working lands can keep working for generations to come. Between 2014 and 2017, we've invested more than $10 billion in putting voluntary conservation on the ground.  

U.S. Poultry & Egg Association

Consumers want to be sure that all animals being raised for food are treated with respect and are properly cared for during their lives. The people and companies involved in raising poultry for food share the public's concern. They recognize that they have an ethical obligation to make sure that the birds on their farms are well cared for and flourishing.

Family farmers own and operate the majority of the poultry farms in the United States, and here is a link to one poultry farmer's thoughts on family versus factory farming.  

The top priority of these farmers is to raise healthy, top quality poultry using national animal welfare guidelines and audit checklists. These guidelines cover every phase of the bird's life and offers science-based recommendations for humane treatment.

Modern poultry breeding practices produces birds that thrive in today's poultry facilities. As a result, these birds are a much healthier and faster-growing stock than the birds of years ago. These birds are raised in large, spacious barns, which are sophisticated, secure facilities with strictly controlled temperature, humidity and ventilation systems inside – providing vital protection from the outdoor elements, disease and predators.

Today, all poultry farms are under a health program designed by a licensed veterinarian. But just like people though, chickens, hens and turkeys sometimes get sick, and treating illness is a responsible and ethical component of animal care for these birds. When this happens, farmers work with animal health experts and veterinarians to determine if an antibiotic is needed. The vast majority of the antibiotics used by the poultry industry are never used in human medicine, and our industry has phased out many of those most critical to human medicine and continues to seek innovation to further reduce usage of antibiotics.

Poultry producers are committed to innovation, and the work that farmers and veterinarians are doing to ensure the safety and health of their birds – and thereby our food supply – creates many choices for consumers. Whether consumers choose to spend their food dollars on traditional poultry, organic, or poultry raised without antibiotics, they can be confident in its wholesomeness and safety.

National Pork Producers Council

At 4:58 PM ET last night, the National Pork Producers Council received an e-mail from CBS This Morning asking for comment on Ms. Portman's project. We haven't seen her documentary. Despite the last-minute request, and because we are aware of Ms. Portman's long-standing anti-meat agenda, we offered to send a pig farmer to New York to participate in this segment to make sure CBS viewers are provided with a balanced view of U.S. pork production practices. Our offer was rejected.

The success and viability of hog farms across rural American depend on maintaining the highest standards of animal care and the strongest possible commitment to environmental and community stewardship. While we may not offer the ratings boost that comes with hosting a Hollywood star – one with the resources to manufacture an image of livestock farmers that supports her agenda -- our offer to CBS stands. We welcome the opportunity to present an accurate view of a U.S. farming sector that employs 550,000 Americans and provides a safe and nutritious source of protein to billions of people worldwide.

It is this type of biased reporting that has left the U.S. media vulnerable to questions about their credibility and accuracy.