With the California drought making headlines for months, there’s been a lot of national attention given to the state and its efforts to conserve water. As expected, there’s also been some debate about how our decisions, especially our diets, impact water supplies.
A new op-ed in The New York Times compares the amount of water used in the production of various foods, with hamburgers at the top of the list.
Author Nicholas Kristoff explains, “The crisis in California is a harbinger of water scarcity in much of the world. And while we associate extravagant water use with swimming pools and verdant lawns, the biggest consumer, by far, is agriculture. In California, 80 percent of water used by humans goes to farming and ranching.
While hamburgers certainly top the list of water-intensive foods, animal products like eggs and cheese also use incredible amounts of water and other resources that could undoubtedly be better utilized.
“Plant material converts quite inefficiently into animal protein. So a single egg takes 53 gallons of water to produce. A pound of chicken, 468 gallons. A gallon of milk, 880 gallons. And a pound of beef, 1,800 gallons of water, says Kristoff.
From direct consumption of water by the animals to watering the crops used to feed them, animal agriculture is an incredibly thirsty industry.
While proponents of factory farms boast the changes in our food system that have allowed for more and cheaper meat, Kristoff explains that large agricultural operations impose societal costs beyond inefficient use of our natural resources:
• It overuses antibiotics, resulting in dangers to the public from antibiotic-resistant diseases. About four-fifths of antibiotics sold in the United States are for livestock and poultry—even as 23,000 people die annually in America from antibiotic resistant infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.• Farming overuses chemicals such as pesticides, some of them endocrine-disruptors that have been linked to possible cancer, obesity and reproductive disorders.
Consumers have the power to conserve precious natural resources and protect animals, who pay the ultimate price for meat with their lives, by adopting a healthy and sustainable plant-based diet.
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