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The Water Footprint of Meat

February 8, 2015

If you are looking to do your part for the environment and reduce your water consumption, the common advice is to do things like turn off the water when you brush your teeth, upgrade to low-flow fixtures and toilets, or take shorter showers. But the most effective way to reduce your water consumption has nothing to do with how long your showers are. It has to do with what you eat.

In terms of energy resources used, animal products are incredibly inefficient. Beef is the worst offender with a single pound of beef requiring about 1,799 gallons of water to produce. That’s right! A POUND of beef requires 1,799 gallons. To put this into perspective, you could give up showering for an entire year and still not save as much water as is required to make a pound of beef.

According to Waterfootprint.org, most of the water used in animal product production goes to produce feed for the animals (98%) – that’s water for all the crops which animals eat. It should go without saying that it would be more efficient to just feed people the crops directly instead of using them to feed animals for meat. The rest of the water used in producing animals goes for drinking water, service water, and feed mixing water.

By comparison, plants have a much lower water footprint than meat and animal products do. Let’s take a look at the water footprint comparison:

(Gallons required per 1lb of product)

~Beef = 1,799

~Sheep = 731

~Cheese = 600

~Pork = 576

~Chicken = 468

~Rice = 449

~Soy = 216

~Wheat = 132

~Potato = 119

~Corn = 108

 

Bear in mind that these amounts can vary between reports. The amount of water required to produce food depends on many local factors, such as production system, climate, and feed used for animals. However, the fact remains consistent that beef and animal products require much more water than plant foods (chocolate is one of the only exception to this).

But wait – meat has more protein than plant foods do, so this evens things out, right? Wrong! Even when we look at water consumption per gram of protein, vegetables will win. It takes 1.5 times more water to produce a gram of protein from chicken than it does from pulses (such as lentils or chickpeas). For beef, it takes 6x more water to produce a gram of protein than a gram of protein from pulses.

So if you want to do your part for the environment and reduce water consumption, reduce your meat consumption!

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