Believe it or not, eating meat, especially beef, dramatically drains our water resources.
Here’s how it works.
You eat a quarter-pounder made with meat from a cow whose main diet is munching on crops such as corn, soy, wheat and oats. Those crops need irrigation from a water resource. We’re talking a lot of water. In the end, to produce one whole pound of beef takes 1800 gallons of water, or 450 gallons for a quarter-pound hamburger.
The overuse of water resources by the agriculture industry is addressed in a recent Guardian article “US Rivers and Lakes are Shrinking for a Surprising Reason: Cows.”
Author Troy Farah tells us cattle-feed crops ending up as beef and dairy products “account for 23% of water consumption in the US.” Farah cited a recent study published in Nature finding cattle as a major driver of water shortages. A prime example is the Colorado River and its tributaries used by local ranchers raising cattle and which also happen to be drinking water by local municipalities. In the last 20 years, the warmer climate has seen record breaking droughts causing the Colorado River to shrink by 20%. Similarly, drought conditions plus watering feed for cows are drying up rivers across the country.
The Observer Research Foundation, an India-based group, says “meat production has quadrupled in the last 50 years; today the world produces more than 320 million tons of meat every year. There has been a particularly marked increase in the worldwide consumption of chicken and pork.”
So maybe we should eat less beef? How about less meat in general?
Watercalculator.org says data shows Americans eating less beef and more pork and chicken since 1970 — a year when one person consumed about 85 pounds of beef. That has dropped down to 57 pounds.
We can cut down on the meat we eat without giving it up entirely. More and more Americans are choosing meatless products such as plant-based alternatives. According to Discover Magazine “March sales of meat alternatives jumped another 264 percent — not only due to popularity, but an increase in distribution as well.”
Consuming less beef and dairy means fewer cows need to be fed from irrigated crops. According to the Center for Sustainable Systems, a meatless Beyond Burger generates 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and has practically no impact on water scarcity.
Climate change induced heat and dry spells has for too long threatened the disappearance of our waterways. If we can lessen the drain on those waterways by limited the use to irrigate cattle feed, perhaps our rivers and tributaries won’t ever dry up