Beef and Water - Setting the Record Straight

Posted: 9/11/2012

Posted By:  Ron Frederick, Executive Director, SD Beef Industry Council

By now, some of you may of heard of or seen the new documentary film entitled;” Last Call at The Oasis”. This film is produced by the same company as the movies “Food Inc” and “An Inconvenient Truth”. The film looks at the vital role water plays in our lives and points a finger at agriculture, claiming that its water usage accounts for 92% of the so-called water footprint and directly looks at beef production and water usage. The film claims that it takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef, which is a great over-exaggeration. The movie’s website goes on to also encourage viewers to take action to preserve water by eating less beef, because it uses more water than any other protein source.

I thought it was important for readers to know the facts:

Yes, like every other food produced, raising beef requires the use of natural resources like land, water and energy. According to a UC Davis study, it takes 440 gallons of water to produce a pound of boneless beef (NOT- 1,800 gallons). This same study takes into consideration the following:

-Water the animal drinks
-Water used to irrigate the pastureland cattle graze (California)
-Water used to grow crops cattle are fed
-Water used to process the beef

By comparison, over 700 gallons of water go into the production of one cotton T-shirt and 39,000 gallons of water are used to manufacture a new car. And when we look at how water is wasted, a running toilet can waste up to 200 gallons per day and the New York City water supply system leaks 36 million gallons per day.

Of the approximately 410 billion gallons of water used in the United States each day nearly 50% is used for electrical power.

In fact, a recent Washington State University study funded by the checkoff and published in the Dec. 2011 Journal of Animal Science shows how beef production has reduced its carbon footprint by 16% in the last 30 years as follows:

Each pound of beef raised in the U.S. from 1977-2007 used;

-33% less land
-12% less water
-19% less feed
- 9% less fossil fuel

The beef industry yielded 13% more beef from 31% fewer cows in the same time frame.

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