It’s not exactly news that California is facing its worst water crisis in history, but it may be news that a major culprit is animal agriculture. Nearly half; 47% to be exact, of California’s water goes to animal agriculture, whether that water is actually consumed by animals, or used to raise crops like alfalfa, which is used as animal feed.
Governor Jerry Brown has called for rationing, at least rationing for humans, including shorter showers, less frequent watering of lawns, and other measures aimed at a 25% reduction in water usage. Human consumption accounts for just 4% of California’s water usage, so it is hard to see how even the most draconian efforts would result in a significant amount saved. And what are the expectations for agriculture to similarly cut usage. Well, there aren’t any. That’s right agriculture can let the tap run wide open.
The general wisdom says that it takes about 1,800 gallons of water (and that’s a conservative estimate) to raise just one pound of beef, and this doesn’t include the water used to grow crops for animal feed. Compare this with a pound of potatoes at 60 gallons of water, or a pound of rice at 229 gallons.
If there were “water, water, everywhere,” the sheer wastefulness of animal agriculture wouldn’t create as much a problem, but in a drought it’s a big problem. Economically and ecologically it doesn’t make sense to use more water than is necessary for people to eat a healthy diet. Broccoli provides 11.1 grams of protein per 100 calories, while beef provides only 6.4 grams per 100 calories, making broccoli the clear winner, especially when considering it takes only 34 gallons of water to raise a pound of broccoli, that’s 1,766 gallons less than a pound of beef.
Maybe you don’t live in California and have plenty of water. But if you are buying animal products from California, including beef, poultry and dairy, you are contributing to California’s water shortage. Think before you buy. Read the label to find out where the food came from and think twice about buying meat. The cost on the shelf pales in comparison to the cost on the environment.