Much Water to
Make One Pound of Beef?
1, 2001 -- 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. Newsweek once put it another way: "the
water that goes into a 1,000 pound steer would float a destroyer."
Not surprisingly, the beef industry promotes a study that determined,
using highly suspect calculations, that only 441 gallons of water
are required to produce a pound of beef.
(The cattlemen's study applied liberal deductions from water actually
used, reasoning that water was evaporated at points during the process,
or was "returned" to the water table after being used to grow plant
feed, or was returned to the water table via urea and excrement
from cows. Thus, study authors reasoned these waters were not "lost"
but "recycled" and therefore could be subtracted from gross amount
of water actually used in beef production. Of course, evaporation
and cow dung don't go very far in replenishing water pumped from
acquifers which took thousands of years to fill. It's interesting
to consider that if the same fuzzy math were applied to calculating
how much water it takes to grow vegetables, potatoes would probably
only require about 2 gallons of water per pound.)
Bestselling author and vegetarian trailblazer John Robbins has
examined in detail a variety of estimates and who worked on them,
and some of his observations are in his new book Food Revolution (see
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
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 in January, the book
is titled Ecological Integrity: Integrating Environment, Conservation
and Health (Island Press, Washington DC, 2001).
Pimentel is a celebrated professor of ecology and agricultural
science at Cornell University, who has published over 500 scientific
articles, 20 books and overseen scores of important studies.
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.