Water Usage in the Meat and Dairy Industry

Categories: Water Conservation

In the last decades the demand for meat and dairy has been increasing exponentially. With this comes an excess amount of water being consumed, but also wasted to produce these products. With the recent tax law on water in Chicago, there are worries arising in the meat and dairy industry. Many consumers are not cognizant of what goes into producing what they are consuming and raising awareness will allow them to put it into perspective. It’s important that we talk more about water usage in these industries.

Ways to minimize water consumption can be done by changing diets, setting regulations to minimize usage, and educating others.

While many have believed that water consumption is increasing due to daily uses such as their kitchen, bathroom, or garden are incorrect. Only 4% of the world’s water consumption is because of household use. To put it into perspective, 27% of our water consumption in due to the meat and dairy industry. In order to keep livestock alive, water is one of the biggest factors in keeping them “healthy.

” People should not be so focused on trying to reduce their household water consumption, but rather should take a closer look to their diet. For example, The Ogallala Aquifer in the American Midwest is gradually being depleted because of water abstractions for the irrigation of crops such as corn and wheat (McGuire, 2007). Much of the grain cultivated in the world is not for human consumption but for animal consumption.

In the period from 2001 to 2007, on average 37% of the cereals produced in the world were used for animal feed [Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 2011].

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However, little attention among scientists or policy makers is given to the relationship between meat and dairy consumption and water use. It is becoming increasingly relevant to study the implications of farm animals on water resource use, not only because global meat production almost doubled in the period from 1980 to 2004, but also because meat production is projected to double in the period from 2000 to 2050 (FAO, 2005). To put it into perspective again, in order to produce a quarter pounder, it takes 150 gallons of water, which is equivalent to 600 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. With many families consuming meat on a regular basis and also is social norm that animal products should be consumed in order to have a healthy lifestyle has caused an epidemic on water consumption.

About 98% of the water footprint of animal products relates to water use for feed (Mekonnen and Hoekstra, 2010). A recent study by GerbensLeenes et al. (2011) showed that there are 2 major determining factors in the water footprint of animal products. The first factor is the feed conversion efficiency, which measures the amount of feed to produce a given amount of meat, eggs, or milk.

Because animals are generally able to move more and take longer to reach slaughter weight in grazing systems, they consume a greater proportion of feed to convert to meat. Because of this, the feed conversion efficiency improves from grazing systems through mixed systems to industrial systems and leads to a smaller water footprint in industrial systems. The second factor works precisely in the other direction, that is, in favor of grazing systems. This second factor is the composition of the feed eaten by the animals in each system. When the amount of feed concentrates increases, the water footprint will increase as well because feed concentrates have a relatively large water footprint, whereas roughages (grass, crop residues, and fodder crops) have a relatively small water footprint.

Livestock production impacts air and water quality, ocean health, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on regional to global scales and it is the largest use of land globally. Focusing how we can find ways to help lower emissions comes with many regulations that can be difficult to regulation.

Especially if scientist have not shined a light how impactful the meat and dairy industry is to our environment. The biggest step that can be done is to educate others how impactful our diets are to the environment. Many do not realize that our daily habits as simple as what we eat affects our surroundings. With there being 136 gases traced in the air, methane and ammonia being the two that present the greatest risk in the environment.

Reduction measures must begin with the housing and manure removal systems and with feeding and management. Factors such as the protein content of feeds, the pH value of slurry and feed additives, air temperature, air exchange rate and litter affect the extent of ammonia emissions from animal housing. Sustained reduction of emissions from outdoor stores is possible by using various coverings. The greatest research need is perceived to be in the area of feed practices which reduce nitrogen and the development of low emission housing and manure removal systems as well as in a detailed compilation of emission factors. It will take some time for reduction measures to be put into practice and the possibility of reducing livestock numbers should also be included in the discussion. Ammonia emissions from animal production represent a considerable loss in valuable fertilizer nitrogen. A reduction in emissions is therefore necessary not only for environmental protection but also to minimize economic loss.

With the new water tax put into place in Chicago has brought concern to the meat and dairy industry. To try and minimize water consumption is extremely important to minimize the cost. Many do not know how much water it takes to produce many of the goods us humans consume, and these industries are doing everything in their power to change how they grow and produce food. With Chicago’s tax on water being $3.81 per 1,000 gallons, threatens many of the urban farms in the city.

Since these urban farms consume more water than any normal business, they are also required to pay $70 each day water is used. This creates a rise of fear since water is the key ingredient in producing their livestock and goods. While visiting an urban farm in Chicago, called City Farm, one of the oldest urban farms were not happy about the new water tax. They saw it as an obstacle that can be overcome and did everything in their power to not pay for it. They talked about using water run-off from the rain, but since the air is heavily polluted there are regulations with watering crops. They knew using the city’s water was not an option and it was unaffordable; therefore, they used their local fire department which so happen to be located next to the farm. Without this resource, their garden would not be here today. These gardens use massive amounts of water in order to keep it alive. With the meat and dairy industry hundreds of thousands of gallons of water is used, and with this new regulation in Chicago will cause the price of meat and dairy to increase.

With veganism and vegetarianism coming to a rise the past decade due to more research and documentaries being showcased has shined a light into people’s habits. Diet being one of the biggest factors in how our environment is affected has allowed many people to be more cognizant in what they consume. As said before, to produce on pound of beef it takes about 600 gallons of water which on average each cattle weighs 1,500 pounds; this equates to about 900,000 gallons of water it takes to produce one cattle. As you can see putting the numbers in perspective shows where most of our fresh water is being put into.

With people being more cognizant in their diets, veganism and vegetarianism is one of the best diets to help reduce water consumption. Since meat consumes tons of water, in these diets’ meat is not included and with the vegan no animal products are being used. Veganism being the best diet out there to help conserve our planet is the biggest step to change. On a side note, it is not for everyone, and huge changes in your diet can affect people in a negative way. Therefore, small steps are more effective than making drastic ones. In addition, however, consumers can reduce their water consumption by being more cognizant in the choice of which piece of meat they pick. Chickens are less water intensive than cows, and beef from one production system cannot be compared, in terms of associated water impacts, with beef from another production system.

With the meat and dairy industry having a strong presence in the world has allowed it to have an economic ripple effect of 865 billion; roughly six percent of our nations GDP. The amount of power the industry has endured over the years, has allowed it to have bias in research. If you see a scientific study showing that red meat consumption does not raise the risk of cancer or cardiovascular disease, or that high-protein diets are the way to go, good chances are that that study has been funded by the meat industry. As you can see, with the amount of power the meat and dairy have over research is like no other. This causes research to be biased and difficult to persuade law makers to try and regulate the meat and dairy industry. If research cannot be unbiased, there cannot be change or reform to create laws to help stop the rise of water consumption. But, if there were to be research that can persuade law makers, there can finally be steps taken to help resolve the problem. It will allow to shine a light on how terrible the meat and dairy industry is to the environment.

With small steps in helping to reduce water consumption in the meat and dairy industry, it can be enough to show others how our diets affect our environment. Educating others is easily the best thing we can do in order to bring change. Many people are not cognizant what goes into creating animal products and through education is can shine a light on a topic people have been ignoring for so long. While digging more into the meat and dairy industry, many have proved how powerful the industry is and how it influences research.

It is almost shunned upon society since the industry brings in a ton of revenue to help stabilize the economy, that it is almost impossible to persuade others to not consume animal products for the betterment of the environment. By having a vegetarian diet, it can help reduce carbon emissions by a ton; with veganism being the best way to help the environment, any small steps in a positive direction can help our environment. Water being one of the biggest consumptions in the meat and dairy industry, it is almost the hardest thing to regulate since it is essential to help produce livestock. With the new tax on water in Chicago, it has made many of the producers of livestock and agriculture to be cognizant and find creative ways to regulate their water consumption. Also, with carbon emissions being highly influenced through the meat and dairy industry, it is easier to have waste management regulations made.

Using waste to be creative and convert it into possible energy to fuel buildings can be done by research. But with water consumption, it is nearly impossible to bring back water was already consumed. By educating others on the meat and dairy industry, it can bring attention and make others cognizant on how our diets influence our environment. Without letting others know how this affects our surroundings, change will be stagnant, and our environment will plummet.

Work Cited

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  2. Eshel, Gidon, et al. “Land, Irrigation Water, Greenhouse Gas, and Reactive Nitrogen Burdens of Meat, Eggs, and Dairy Production in the United States.” PNAS, National Academy of Sciences, 19 Aug. 2014,
  3. Scarborough, Peter, et al. “Dietary Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Meat-Eaters, Fish-Eaters, Vegetarians and Vegans in the UK.” SpringerLink, Springer Netherlands, 11 June 2014
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  9. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 2005. Livestock policy brief 02. FAO, Rome, Italy.
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  12. “Control of Gaseous Emissions from Livestock Buildings and Manure Stores.” NeuroImage, Academic Press, 25 May 2002, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0021863484710171.

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Water Usage in the Meat and Dairy Industry. (2022, May 02). Retrieved from http://envrexperts.com/free-essays/essay-about-water-usage-in-the-meat-and-dairy-industry

Water Usage in the Meat and Dairy Industry
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