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California’s New Water Restrictions Give Meat Industry a Free Pass

According to The New York Times, California governor Jerry Brown recently “ordered mandatory water use reductions for the first time in California’s history, saying the state’s four-year drought had reached near-crisis proportions after a winter that brought record-low snowfalls.

This should come as no surprise. California’s brutal drought has been making headlines for months, with critics citing everything from individual household usage to almonds as part of the problem.

But few of these reports highlight the serious water footprint of the state’s meat, dairy, and egg production, and the new regulations do little to limit water use by the state’s largest water waster: big agriculture.

Factory farming (and raising animals for food in general) uses up an enormous amount of water. From direct consumption of water by the animals to watering the crops used to feed farmed animals, animal agriculture is an incredibly thirsty industry.

In fact, production of meat and dairy requires about 100 times more water than production of the same amount of plant-based protein, according to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Consider this:
  • It takes 660 gallons of water to produce one hamburger. (That’s enough water for two months’ worth of showers!)
  • A whopping 47 percent of California’s water footprint is linked to meat and dairy products, according to The Pacific Institute.
  • Up to 15 percent of California’s water is used to grow alfalfa, much of which is exported to feed farmed animal in other countries.
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