"Mad Cowboy"
KQED Presents a Dancing Star Foundation Production in Association with Voice for a Viable Future
Based on the book Mad Cowboy by Howard Lyman and Glen Merzer Featuring the Music of Loreena McKennitt

"Mad Cowboy" is a courageous and dramatic look at animal rights, and the fall-out — particularly in Europe, but also the United States — of various animal-transmitted diseases, like BSE (Mad Cow Disease) and its human variant – nvCJD (New Variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease).

Dr. Michael Tobias, President of Dancing Star Foundation and a world-renowned ecologist, author and filmmaker, has made well over 100 films and is the author of 30 books — both fiction and non-fiction. A focus throughout his work has been the environment, multiple issues pertaining to animal rights and animal welfare and biodiversity conservation. He says, "This generation is challenged with perhaps more hard choices than have ever weighed upon any other group in any other time. But the choices — however difficult — should not be perceived as hopeless. On the contrary, there are more individuals to help — among all species; more suffering to alleviate; more equity to ensure amongst our fellow humans, than ever before. Our choices, if grounded in compassion, will always veer towards the light."

The film "Mad Cowboy" was three years in the making, and shot throughout the U.K. and Scotland, Switzerland, California, Montana, New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. The film, based upon the non-fiction book by the same title, by Howard Lyman and Glen Merzer, follows the life of Lyman, a 4th generation cattle rancher turned vegan. Lyman ran for Congress and worked for the Humane Society before starting his own nonprofit, Voice for A Viable Future, which works for agricultural reform. Lyman and Oprah Winfrey were sued in Texas for speaking out against the perils of Mad Cow disease and ultimately won their claim. A vindication, in many respects, of the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech, despite the efforts of some to thwart the expression of opinions pertaining to meat and other animal products.

Says Lyman in the film: "Declaring yourself a vegetarian in Montana is more dangerous than stealing horses."

Writer, Director and Executive Producer: Dr. Michael Tobias
Producer: Dr. J. Patrick Fitzgerald
Co-Executive Producer: Bob Allen
Co-Producer: Howard Lyman and Marr Nealon
Associate Producers: Jane Gray Morrison and Beverly Fitzgerald
Cinematographers: Travis Johnson and Michael Tobias
Editor: Aaron Jordan


This is the first feature film to examine Mad Cow disease in the context of animal rights. The animal rights message is told through several parallel story lines, all converging on the life story of 4th generation cattle rancher-turned-vegan, Howard Lyman. Lyman was the first whistle blower to look at Mad Cow Disease. His comments got him sued, following his appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show, where he spoke out about the potential dangers, in his opinion, of meat. Oprah and Howard then fought in an Amarillo court room — the home turf of the Texas Cattlemen Association - and ultimately won their case, a true vindication for the First Amendment. This was a proving ground for the efficacy — or not — of the Food Disparagement Laws that exist in 13 states and prohibit anyone from speaking out against certain agricultural products; a true violation, according to most lawyers, of our First Amendment rights. The movie examines four families in England whose children died from New Variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease, the human equivalent of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or Mad Cow Disease, which has killed at least 150 people to date, but could be germinating in millions of people worldwide right now. The film is a wake-up call for compassion and a powerful lyric to the truth that what we're doing to the animals, in a sense, the animals are doing to us.

The film concludes with the USDA announcement of the first bona fide case (acknowledged by the Government, that is) of Mad Cow disease in the United States.

This is a compelling true life story that relates to every human being on the planet, meat eater or vegetarian.


The 21st century is necessarily about human compassion. As the extinction rate is accelerated hundreds of times beyond that of the natural background rate for species disappearance, and the human population threatens to exceed ten billion, I see a world that is in a state of shock and hemorrhaging. Human cruelty towards animals results from greed, indifference, ignorance, and outright evil, and may well mark the epitaph of the shortest-lived species in the annals of biology. Ungainly, largely carnivorous Homo sapiens have engendered the worst crisis of suffering ever witnessed on this planet. We must wake up, mature as a species, and embark upon a path of sustainable, unconditional love. Otherwise, we will perish and drag down a huge array of other species with us.

This film marks the journey not only of one man who made a change, but of millions of other people who are rising to the challenge of reconciling our own wants with the needs of others, and thereby extending the olive branch of peace to all species. This expansion of the circle of compassion echoes the sentiments of vegetarians throughout history, from Pythagoras to Leonardo Da Vinci; from Michelangelo to the poet Percy Shelley. The film is testimony to the fact that we have no inherent need to harm other species. That compassion begins around the dinner table, on the job, and in our thinking and feeling. This is what psychologist Carl Jung termed "the heroism of daily life."

"Mad Cowboy" is about everyday heroism in the face of bad news, chaos, and tragedy. But the end result of this filmic journey is a profound sense that we can do better; we can make a difference; and we must.


"The Sad, Bewildering Case of Serendipity" Whilst filming "Mad Cowboy" two events took place that are suggestive of the continually harsh times that we live in. First, there was an outbreak of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in Wisconsin. The crew went immediately to cover the story of yet another disease transmitted between species. And second, the first bona fide case of Mad Cow Disease, or BSE — bovine spongiform encephalopathy — in the United States was reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary, despite years of assuring the American public that it would never happen here. This incident is also in the film as a telling, cautionary coda.

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