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One Quarter-Pounder = 27 Showers

The amount of water required to produce red meat is staggering. It is a clear indication of meat production inefficiency. These are the two key factors to know:

1. Water Footprint: A food’s “water footprint” is the amount of blue, green, and grey water required to produce meat. These factors are a) the water required to produce animal feed (blue and green); b) the water meat animals drink (blue); and c) the water needed to clean and wash during animal growth and meat processing (grey). For more details, click here.

2. Type of Meat: Different meats have different water footprints, and the footprints are different around the world. For details, click here.

Global water footprints have been calculated for all meats.

Here are the global averages. Water use for red meat production varies country to country, but global averages are a general indicator of the substantial quantities of rain, fresh and grey water used to produce red meat products for human consumption.

Livestock production in the United States is more efficient (more “industrial”) than developing countries, and the amount of water needed to produce a pound of red meat is less. There is a trade-off, however, in the use of antibiotics and pesticides, due to the crowded conditions of industrial meat production.

According to the USDA, and its Council on Agricultural Science & Technology, and the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization, “the population of the planet is predicted to grow from 7 billion to 9.1 billion and income per capita is predicted to rise by 150% by 2050.” Therefore, demand for red meat is projected to grow substantially.

However, at current rates, keeping up with the demand is not sustainable. According to the German organization “PETA”, “Nearly half of all the water used in the United States goes toward raising animals for food.” Their research indicates that “It takes more than 2,400 gallons of water to produce just 1 pound of meat. Only 25 gallons of water are required to grow 1 pound of wheat. You can save more water by not eating a pound of meat than you can by not showering for six months!”

The issues relating to water quality, feedstock agriculture and red meat production are vast challenges for the future.

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