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How Much Water to
Make One Pound of Beef?

To date, probably the most reliable and widely-accepted water estimate to produce a pound of beef is the figure of 2,500 gallons/pound. The beef industry promotes a study that determined, using highly suspect calculations, that only 840 gallons of water are required to produce a pound of beef.

Bestselling author and vegetarian trailblazer John Robbins has examined in detail a variety of estimates and how they were arrived at, and discussed some of his observations in a recent article (linked here).

So what's the beef with beef, when it comes to water?

Simply put: it's wasteful and irresponsible to squander our precious resources on a luxury item like meat.

The only question we're left with is: just how wasteful and irresponsible is it?

Once again, our intrepid investigator, John. Robbins, recently uncovered some startling new evidence. That evidence comes in the form of a scholarly new book which sheds new light on the subject. Edited by David Pimentel and others and published last December, the book is titled Ecological Integrity: Integrating Environment, Conservation and Health (Island Press, Washington DC, 2000).

Pimentel is a celebrated professor of ecology and agricultural science at Cornell University, who has published numerous articles, books and studies. To see just a tiny sample of his work, click here.

The other editors of the book are Laura Westra, professor of environmental studies at Sarah Lawrence College, and Reed Noss, president and chief scientist for Conservation Science, Inc., and president of the Society for Conservation Biology.


 



In this new book, Pimentel gives figures on the "Liters of water required to produce 1 kilogram of food."

One can, of course, easily translate liters/kilogram to gallons/pound, and his figures come out as follows:

Potatoes
60 gallons per pound
Wheat
108 gallons per pound
Corn
168 gallons per pound
Rice
229 gallons per pound
Soybeans
240 gallons per pound
Chicken
420 gallons per pound
Beef
12,009 gallons per pound

As you can see from Professor Pimentel's figures, it takes roughly 200 times more water to make a pound of beef than a pound of potatoes.

According to the USDA, one pound of ground lean beef has 1197.5 calories. The USDA lists one pound of potatoes as containing 288 calories.

To get roughly the same amount of calories from potatoes as you do from a pound of beef, you would need 4.15 pounds of potatoes.

So that's 249 gallons of water for 4.15 pounds potatoes versus 12,009 gallons for the pound of beef -- in order to get the same number of calories from the two foods. In short, it takes nearly 50 times more water to produce a calorie from beef as it does from potatoes.

Is this an efficient and fair way to feed the world?

Is it sustainable, even in light of the cash subsidies, super-low water prices, free or low-cost grazing on public lands, and the other enormous welfare handouts the meat industry receives from government, in order to keep the price of meat artificially low?

How, as a vegetarian, do you feel about paying astronomical water rates when you're likely consuming a fraction of the water each month in your home that your meat-eating friends are guzzling each day?

  
 
 

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