by Stacy Matthews Branch
When many of us think of a water crisis, we tend to think of desert conditions, scarce rainfall, or sanitations problems affecting the availability of clean, potable water. In states such as California with water scarcity issues, governments have addressed water conservation efforts with bans on lawn watering and other water-preserving strategies. What about eating less meat to help the environment? Many wonder why this would even have anything to do with water conversation, but this connection can become more obvious once there is a basic understanding regarding the demand that meat production places on water sources.
Meat production requires more water than for the production of other agricultural products. Scientists have conducted a global analysis that showed that less consumption of animal products can result in a significant savings of water sources (1). Their study results indicate that dietary changes that reduce meat consumption can result in up to a 21% decrease in consumption of green water (rainwater needed to make a product) and up to a 14% decrease in the consumption of blue water (surface and groundwater to make a product).
Based on data provided by the University of California, Davis (2), the amount of water needed to raise and feed food animals outshines that of the production of other non-animal agricultural products. For instance, the water needed to produce the pasture and alfalfa needed to feed livestock is 3 to 5 times that needed to produce potatoes, tomatoes, and beans. This still does not include the water needed to process the animal meat for placement into the market.
Although poultry production requires less water per pound to produce when compared to mammalian meat, it is not necessarily a safe replacement either. According to the UK’s Institute of Mechanical Engineers, an average of 4,325 liters (1142 gallons) of water is needed to produce a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of chicken meat. As we can see, a large quantity of water is used to produce meat. Therefore, eating more vegetables, beans, and grains is not only healthy, but can contribute to a global savings of precious water resources.
1. Jalava M, Kummu M, Porkka M, Siebert S, Varis O. Diet change—a solution to reduce water use? Environmental Research Letters. 2014;9(7):074016.
2. Brodwin, E. One chart sums up the real problem in the California drought — and it isn't almonds. http://www.businessinsider.com/real-villain-in-the-california-drought-isnt-almonds--its-red-meat-2015-4 April 13, 2017.
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