Tag Archives: grass fed beef

Meet Jane

ImageThis is a story about Jane, a cute, cuddly, trusting and innocent 10 month-old real life koala. It’s not so much about her life directly as it is about a major disconnect—and a necessary reconnect that I’ll begin to weave for you. Jane’s life has been affected by the food choices we make on a global basis. “How can that possibly be,” you would surely ask—after all, the food we eat comes from a grocery store or a restaurant.

Similar to its effect on many other species living on our planet, the beef you are eating today has a profound impact on Jane and other koalas in two ways. First, since the U.S. is the second largest importer of Australian beef in the world (following Japan), the meat you are eating may have actually come from Australia—part of the 200,000 tons ($1 billion worth) we import each year from their country. Second, even if the beef on your plate today is not directly from the grasslands of Australia, it is one of the building blocks of the meat and dairy industry that casts its ominous shadow over our planet. With every bite of beef you take, it is effectively stamping another vote of support and creating the demand for more and more livestock to be raised and slaughtered throughout the world. This then perpetuates Global Depletion (see the book, Comfortably Unaware) of our planet’s resources and creates substantial increases in risk factors for loss of our own health. As we continue to demand more meat, dairy, and fish products to eat in our country we are also closing our eyes to the true costs to produce those animal products—whether here in the U.S. or in other countries. Until we recognize the true value of the resources and health implications of eating animals, irreversible losses on many fronts will continue to occur. We need to impose an eco and health risk tax on all animal products that are produced, purchased from other countries (such as Australia), and sold to consumers who want to continue eating them. We need to make the entire chain of responsibility pay for the real cost of producing that food. Accountability needs to be established by affixing an appropriate economic value to animal products that reflects all resource (eco) cost during production and to us (health) after consumption, is long overdue and it should be translated into a mandatory tax. For instance, if the habitat and lives of koalas (or biodiversity anywhere on Earth) are lost by the production of an item consumed by humans, then that loss should be paid for by all those responsible.

As with nearly every other country in the world, Australia is a major cattle producer and consumer, expected to become one of the top beef producers and exporters in the world by the end of 2012 along with Brazil and the U.S. (among other things, we have the distinction of holding the #1 spot for beef production in the world in 2011). With the importing of over 2 million head of cattle and 800,000 tons of fresh beef and veal in 2011, the U.S. also has become the world’s second largest importer of beef, following only Russia.

Australia is considered a grass fed wonderland because most of their 200 million sheep and cattle raised annually are being pastured. Even so, Australia is seeing an increase in cattle going to feedlots and being “finished” on grain prior to slaughter, expecting this trend to grow to 31% of all cattle raised by the year 2020. In the U.S. there is heavy marketing and media coverage about grass fed/pastured livestock products, however, the USDA predicts our country will see a 4% increase this year (2012) in cattle that will be raised, or at least finished, on grain in feedlots instead of being 100% grass fed. This is largely due to the demand for grain fed meat by Mexico, the largest importer of U.S. grown beef, who favor the ‘marbled’ taste of grain fed cows and the obvious fact that grain fed cattle in confined (concentrated) feed operations are simply more efficient to produce and with much less land usage than in grass fed situations—which is still a few thousand times less efficient than using land to produce plant foods for us to consume.

As you drive the roads through any cattle district in Australia, you will see many, many cattle and sheep, a few kangaroos, and an occasional wallaby among other things. One sight that you will not see, though, is the one of miles and miles of corn or soybean feed crops as can be typically seen along any stretch of highway in the U.S. (especially in the Midwest). This is because cattle raised in Australia, do in fact, graze for most their lives—but it is with heavy land use and an irreversible toll on wildlife. The loss of biodiversity is blatant and measurable and, unfortunately, it is with an apathetic view.

Among the many livestock operations I am visiting in Australia, there is a region in Gippsland, Victoria that represents one of those very few areas in the world where resources such as water, land, and even their climate are considered ideal for ‘sustainably’ raising livestock. Streams and spring water are abundant and pasture can grow year round, so it has become a prime location for grass fed livestock operations such as cattle, pigs, sheep, and even goats. It is also Australia’s premier area for grass fed dairy operations. The trend seen in Gippsland and across Australia is to produce smaller cows and in less time by keeping them milking at their mother’s side in pastures and then letting them grass feed until 10 to 11 months of age and slaughtering them at an average weight of 265 kg (583 pounds). This method is, of course, fueled by demand—in this case, by Japan and the U.S. for meat from smaller, younger cattle. Interestingly, from a land use standpoint, this method of “sustainable” agriculture occurring in the most favorable conditions in Australia, and perhaps in the world, still uses minimally 2.5 acres to raise just one cow. When it is all said and done, that one cow will provide 300 pounds of meat, which results in 120 pounds per one acre of land used in one year. For reference, an organic vegetable farm, just down the road from these livestock operations in Gippsland, produces on average 5,000 to 10,000 pounds per one acre of food such as tomatoes, fast growing greens, and herbs, that are infinitely healthier for us to consume.

Although throughout Australia, the total number of farms has decreased, the size of an average farm (by “size,” I am referring to the number of livestock raised as well as acreage of land) is increasing, similar to what is occurring in the U.S. However, cattle farm operations in Gippsland remain smaller, averaging 50 to 500 head of cattle per farm and they adhere strongly to ‘grass fed/pastured’ philosophies of operational methodology and marketing protocols.

The concept of ‘humane’ is largely relegated to disease reduction in livestock, with all governmental agencies such as the Department of Primary Industries, Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), Australia Department of Agriculture and Food, etc. being more concerned about the quality of meat as the end product than the true physical, mental, and emotional state of an animal. For example, the very small section allocated to the welfare of animals raised for food that can be found in Western Australia’s Animal Welfare Regulations for the Pig Industry (adopted from the Australia Department of Agriculture and Food) states that the floor space in a stall for a sow should “not be less than 0.6 meter wide by 2.2 meters long” and that a sow with piglets should “not be confined for more than 6 weeks at a time in a farrowing pen less than 5.6 square meters.” This means that a sow can have the luxury of being confined to a space 23 inches wide by 6 feet long without being ‘inhumane’ and if with piglets, can be kept up to one and a half months, without being let out, in a pen 6 feet by 9 feet with its 10-12 piglets. Try that yourself sometime (with or without piglets) and then revisit this definition of ‘humane.’ Also, there are minimal enforceable measures.  This year (2012), the MLA voiced weak concern about the method of slaughter for their transported sheep ending up in the Middle East (99% of all exported sheep from Australia end up in Middle Eastern countries). With this small exception, there is a conspicuous lack of concern or regulation about the need for humane transport and humane slaughter of any livestock—knowing, of course, that there is ultimately no ‘humane’ method for us to slaughter another living thing.

As I pointed out earlier, Australia is among the largest producers and exporters of beef. This, of course, is at the expense of the health of their country—loss and inefficient use of their resources and the declining health of their citizens.

Although beef consumption is slightly declining within our own U.S. population, we are the second largest importer of beef from Australia, which is contributing to deforestation and loss of biodiversity in that country. Grazing livestock currently use over one billion acres of land in Australia, or more than 56% of the entire land mass of this country (http://www.anra.gov.au/topics/land/landuse/index.html) The rate of deforestation in Australia is increasing as quickly as anywhere else in the world with 600,000 acres lost in 2011. The majority of this forest destruction is in areas where koalas live, or once lived, therefore the world demand for beef equates into more land needed to raise cattle which results in forest loss, turning this land into pastures, which destroys the natural habitat of koalas—it’s all connected.

Hence, Jane’s family and thousands of other koalas are killed yearly primarily from direct habitat loss but also indirectly when they are hit by cars and attacked by dogs while moving on the ground in search of eucalyptus trees that were cut down in order to raise cattle. Jane is left orphaned, ending up in a remote sanctuary fighting to regain her health and parameters of life that had gone fairly undisturbed for the previous 25 million years and yet taken away in a matter of minutes by an invisible, insidious force called food choice. Jane represents species everywhere on our planet that are being devastated by livestock operations that are fueled by our demand to eat animals.

We need to think about Jane when you see beef or any other form of animal product that is considered ‘food’ for us to consume. Whether it has come directly from Australia or any other country, plucked out of our oceans, or even raised in your own back yard—meat is not ‘food’; it is a destructive human induced process.  Ask Jane.  Image

Advertisements

Be Aware the Myth #1

ImageOccasionally, I will encounter individuals who have difficulty comprehending the concepts and facts about food choice that I relate in my lectures and book, or perhaps even question my intent. This is normal, in that I am presenting perspectives that are in direct conflict with what 98% of the world has mistakenly learned to accept as truth regarding this topic.  Unfortunately, these are the very same individuals who are wrapped in a complex and substantial layering of influences—cultural, social, psychological, economic, and political. These individuals are collectively consuming massive amounts of our planet’s resources while raising and slaughtering billions of livestock and fish, and thus are the primary contributors to Global Depletion.  We need to change that.

If you grew up being told by your family, and later on by society, that blood letting would cure an infection (which was the case for nearly two thousand years until the late nineteenth century), the chances are quite high that you would not understand or believe a person who came along trying to explain to the masses that a simple antibiotic pill would cure you—while blood letting may, on the other hand, kill you. How could that be?

It’s time I address all those believers in blood letting that I have encountered or will encounter, by responding directly to one of the more recent communications we have received below. The subtopic is about grass fed livestock, however his remarks and tone strike a bit deeper, displaying perpetuated belief systems that tend to foster barriers to finding reality, combined with a pronounced reluctance to change—all too commonly found in our global society.

The following is from “Tom”, as posted on You Tube and our Comfortably Unaware Facebook page and copied for you to see below:

“This isn’t a lecture, it’s a sermon. No facts just a totally disorganized clinging to his uninformed biased self-evident beliefs. Livestock’s Long Shadow didn’t address pasture raised beef at all but focused on modern conventional industrialized chemically fertilized feed crop production that raised animals in CAFOs, the total opposite of pasture raised operations that sequester tons of carbon on pasture every year. His example of raising a cow on 2-20 acres assumes that the cow is on a lot.”

And, my response:

Tom, I am truly sorry you feel that way, having essentially missed the entire central theme of my lecture, book, and message. It is NOT about the 2006 United Nations L.E.A.D. Committee’s report, Livestock’s Long Shadow (which actually did account for grazing livestock, but underestimated their methane and respiratory carbon dioxide production and therefore minimized their contribution to global anthropometric greenhouse gas emissions). My message is about the foods we choose to eat and the effect is has on Global Depletion. It’s about aspects I have uncovered over the past 40 years researching this subject, beginning with the fact that our planet is unhealthy and so are we. My intent is to simply relate these facts to audiences in order to increase awareness, which will ultimately lead to better health. For better context, please see a full lecture at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drS5hHdelR8&feature=related

And, then, perhaps listen more carefully to the one section “The Myth About Grass Fed Beef: Is it Sustainable” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoqHmd32XxI&feature=channel_video_title or read my book, “Comfortably Unaware.”

Global Depletion is a term I use to describe the loss of our primary resources on Earth as well as our own health due to food choice. It’s still about sustainability, just from a different direction. The single largest contributor to Global Depletion is the raising, slaughtering, and eating of animals—over 70 billion livestock animals and 1-2 trillion fish (some researchers have estimated as many as 1.7 trillion chickens are raised and slaughtered in one year). I speak and write about how eating animals is negatively, and in many cases irreversibly, impacting world hunger, water scarcity, agricultural land use inefficiencies, loss of biodiversity, loss of our own health, and the ravaging of our oceans and fish. This stark reality is well documented by numerous organizations and researchers. Scientific literature is now replete with articles in each area I discuss, and easily accessible for those who wish to open their minds or take the time to hear it.

Regarding the grass fed argument of yours and other individuals, I have researched and visited over 150 various grass fed/pastured animal operations in the U.S. and many other countries. The numbers are always quite consistent, in that you cannot raise one grass fed cow on less than 2 to 20 acres. Even Polyface Farms and agriculture educational institutions with their “mob grazing” and “juvenile growth rotation” techniques cannot extract more than one cow per acre of land, which then produces not more than 480 pounds of an end product (“edible carcass weight”), that some consider food. During the 2 to 2 ½ or even 3 years required to raise that cow, you will need minimally 20,000 to 1,000,000 gallons of water (20,000 gallons for drinking and up to 1 to 2 million gallons for irrigating portions of your pasture which is necessary in many areas of the world), and you will have produced 3 to 4 tons of methane and carbon dioxide by way of enteric fermentation and respiration. After consuming this end animal product, you have created for yourself a 20-30% increased risk of contracting coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, any of the five most common cancers (colon, lung, breast, prostate, pancreatic and many more), diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, kidney and gall stones, diverticulosis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and many more diseases. This risk is from eating animal products and animal protein, which does not change if it is grass fed.

These reflections are not my “beliefs”, as you charged. Sadly, they are quite factual. Nearly one thousand researchers have found similar conclusions— independent of each other.

If you are defining a person who relates facts, as one who provides a “sermon”, then fine, my lecture must be a sermon.

And, finally, the only “self evident beliefs” I am guilty of conveying are the following:

  1. that all the damage we are doing to our planet by way of eating animals will end
  2. that people such as yourself, as improbable as it may seem, will ultimately become aware

I certainly appreciate your comments and providing me the opportunity to respond, as we collectively move forward, evolving toward a healthier and more peaceful planet. Dr. O

What Was Missed At Durban

ImageThe 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference concluded Sunday morning (December 11) in Durban, South Africa. Although there was the usual drama that accompanies these conferences, ministers finally reached an agreement on a new text, referred to as the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, that will see the Kyoto Protocol extended into a second commitment period by a number of countries. While this may seem promising, it marked the 17th time that a global climate change summit displayed the continued and blatant omission of addressing food choice as a significant factor.

In order to appreciate why this is so important we should first review what the event is all about. In 1997, 194 nations drafted and adopted the Kyoto Protocol—an international treaty developed from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to identify and mitigate human influencing factors on climate change. Nations now gather annually as part of the Conference of the Parties (COP).

The intent of COP, then, is to essentially find methods of reducing the production of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) into our atmosphere by the three principal component gases—carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Greenhouse gases (which also include water vapor and ozone) are those that absorb and emit infrared radiation. The Protocol, as a legally binding agreement, was entered into force in 2005 with the objective to reach a target reduction of 5.2% GHG emissions from the 1992 levels by the year 2012. Commitments in the Kyoto Protocol were based on “joint implementation”, “clean development mechanism”, and “international emissions trading.” Emissions trading was established to allow nations that can easily meet their targets to sell credits to those that cannot.

Although some strides have been made since 1997 with the Bali Action Plan in 2007 (COP 13) and the Cancun Agreements reached at COP 16 in 2010, the conferences have been characterized as seeing minimal progress in their first fourteen years due to differences in opinion between developed countries and also because the treaty applied to only industrialized nations—“37 Annex I countries” as referred to in the Protocol—but imposed no mandate on developing countries which includes emerging economic powers and significant GHG emitters like China, India, Brazil , and South America, Mexico, and Korea. As of December 2011, the U.S. has not and will not agree to an extension of Kyoto beyond 2012 or sign the treaty unless there is a balancing of requirements between developed and undeveloped countries. The Cancun Agreements realized the need to commit both economically strong as well as developing countries by proposing a Green Climate Fund (GCF) to help deliver financial aid to poorer nations. The GCF was proposed to mobilize $100 billion annually from private and public funds but has yet to see implementation.

As of early 2011, many scientists felt the existing Kyoto pledges were far less than what was needed to reach the UN’s goal of keeping a temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius, the calculated maximum amount above which we will likely see truly catastrophic effects. China, India, and the U.S. are waiting until a mandatory review of new science findings scheduled for 2015. This caused postponing the redrafting of internationally binding GHG emission commitments and involvement of unsigned countries until then. With this delay, it is predicted that global warming will reach 3.5 degrees Celsius or worse in coming years. (Climate Action Tracker, 12-6-11)

The negotiations in Durban revolved around extending the Kyoto Protocol, inclusion of all nations into a binding contract, and adoption of the GCF. In last few and extended hours of Durban amidst heated debate, an agreement was made by more than 190 nations to do just that—to continue towards a treaty that will include all emitters, define and enforce goals, and implement the GCF by 2015 which will be fully in force by 2020. Nations also agreed to create measures that would involve preserving tropical forests and the development of clean energy technology.

The World Resources Institute described the results at Durban as a “major climate deal” that would lead to better negotiations. While on its surface, the results at Durban could be construed as purposeful, even successful, the conference did little more than simply keep future talks viable—an agreement to agree. Major emitters such as China, India, and the U.S. are still not bound and so the outcome at Durban should be viewed as unsatisfying to anyone striving for real change in GHG emission policy. Alden Meyer, director of policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists responded by saying, “The decisions adopted here fell well short of what was needed.” The U.S. chief American climate negotiator, Todd D. Stern, stated that he was “hopeful that negotiations in coming years would produce a more equitable arrangement.” Since the primary goal of these COP meetings is to reduce the impact human activities have on climate change, one would have to view them as unsuccessful, since GHG are in fact on the increase and major contributing sectors, such as the meat, dairy, and fishing industries have not been properly addressed.

Regarding climate change, most researchers agree on the following:

  1. Global warming is occurring
  2. Climate change is worsening
  3. Major destructive and catastrophic events—flooding, droughts, rise in sea levels, melting of polar ice caps, etc. will occur and are directly proportional to rises in Earth’s temperature
  4. Climate changes are related to increases in greenhouse gases
  5. Anthropogenic (human induced) GHG emissions are large enough, beyond natural emissions, to be a significant contributing factor to global warming and climate change
  6. The largest sectors for anthropogenic emissions are energy and agriculture, together comprising more than 95% of these human induced GHG emissions
  7.  The single largest component of agricultural emissions are those from raising livestock, which contributes between 20% and 51% of all total GHG emissions globally (energy+agriculture)

Although wider acceptance of a Protocol extension and inclusion of all nations into a binding international contract now seem a delayed but future possibility, there remains an obvious omission from any COP discussions and implementation strategies. What is clearly missing from this list above is a #8, which would connect the final dot—that, since raising livestock is one of the single largest contributors to human induced GHG emissions and since the objective of all annual COP meetings is to mitigate human induced GHG emissions, then we simply need to stop raising livestock.  However, this would necessitate definitive and legally binding universal language stipulating that all countries “stop raising and eating animals”—with strict, time activated, and enforceable measures in effect. To date, policy makers have been unwilling to do this and there has been no such statement or regulation in the mix. With or without annual international climate change summits, with or without signed agreements, proper progress will not be made with reducing GHG emissions until the issue of food choice is on center stage and raising livestock is eliminated by all nations.

More on this subject can be found in the book “Comfortably Unaware.”

You and the 2012 Farm Bill: a new perspective

  For those unfamiliar with this Bill, here is a quick look at what’s happening via two of my most abbreviated definitions: 1. We are all giving an awful lot of money to our government for them to pay large businesses to produce food that we get sick on. That’s pretty much the existing Farm Bill.  2. We give even more money to our government all over again, for them to pay for the health bills of all those people who eat all that bad food—which explains our national health insurance plan, and both are now unfortunately intertwined. Why do you need to be concerned about the Farm Bill? There are a few reasons: One is that you are paying for it—that should be reason enough. Additionally, it is being vastly misrepresented to the public and redrafted as we speak. It will go into effect next year. Less than 2% of the current Farm Bill is used to support vegetables, fruit, and nuts, most of the rest of the money is given to the meat and dairy industries, in one form or another.  All of the major changes proposed for this bill are aimed at taking away economic support from factory farms and providing more to small farmers—thinking this will produce healthier foods. Sounds good, doesn’t it? No, it’s not so good. Essentially, it will be a shift of money away from large meat and dairy operations to small meat and dairy operations—which is not a proper solution. When you hear about “farm subsidies” and “commodities”, it is this Bill that they are talking about. The original Farm Bill, most likely was once a good idea with humble beginnings in 1933 to help prop up farmers battling their way out of the Great Depression, but now it has evolved into a new definition of being disconnected. The current Bill is a 5 yr, $280 billion plan with 15 categories or “titles”, each with its own set of funds. You are hearing mostly about the $42 billion given as direct farm subsidies (these are for “commodities” or corn, wheat, soybeans, and another crops) and also about the $40 billion for two other Titles that provide various types of support such as crop insurances and land set aside programs. These three are the grouping of funds that have supported industrial farming the most in a direct fashion. But, $190 billion or 70% of the entire Farm Bill, is given to 43 million people enrolled in the food stamp program—and that Title has issues as well, but you won’t hear about them because it is more insidious and slides along unnoticed. OK, so what about the other 11 Titles? No one knows much about these because, at a meager $2 billion, they are not considered a problem. But I consider them extremely important. These Titles pertain to such things as conservation and environment, forestry, renewable energy, and research. In fact, if our government would have devoted more of the previous Farm Bills, essentially more of our tax dollars, to just two of those ‘menial’ categories—like, say, to environment and research—they may have discovered decades ago that we are growing our food all wrong. In fact, they would have found out that we are not growing food at all—we are growing livestock, and now fish. In order to move forward with the redrafting of the Farm Bill, a few things need to be sorted out. I’ll review the most important three: First, the Food Stamp program has no proper nutrition education or monitoring system so the program itself, is essentially contributing to our national health care costs and the perpetuation of producing unhealthy food because $190 billion is being spent, by those enrolled, on the cheapest and most readily accessible food possible—food produced with empty calories and from the meat and dairy industries.  Since this will continue to be the largest part of the Bill, it needs to be corrected at least as much as the other subsidy issues. Second, despite what the NY Times and other authors are saying, it needs to be clearly understood that Government subsidies by themselves do not cause obesity or any other disease. Proper food is out there. You just have to find it and create the demand. If we all decided to stop eating Twinkies today, they wouldn’t be made. Again, it begins with education. It begins with awareness—and the Farm Bill (subsidies) need to provide this awareness, before it does anything else. Third, all government funding should be for only those foods that are the healthiest for our environment and for ourselves—organically grown, plant-based foods. Farmers that grow them should be heavily supported and obviously benefit the most. Doing these three things would create the right environment for healthier food to be produced and for proper choices to be made. I encourage everyone to get involved with this. You have a voice but carefully examine what is being proposed because the movement to restructure this Bill is well underway and is quite strong but not in the right direction as I have pointed out here. Since the 2012 Farm Bill will become a reality as a successor to previously enacted Bills, we certainly need to address it right now. However, I have another solution that which would get us on the right track much quicker, while the Farm Bill chugs along—called an eco and health risk tax—which will be for another blog, and can also be found  in Comfortably Unaware.

 

Water: Escalating Concerns

The most pressing issue that we have today regarding sustaining our life and future life on earth involves water. Are we being stewards for those generations following us?

Since the Second World Water Forum in 2000, a few organizations such as the United Nations Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation have made it quite clear that there is a rapidly expanding gap between the demand for water and our supply. By 2030, worldwide demand is expected to be 40% more than it is today. Although there are regional variations in urgency and stress, water scarcity is already a reality in many parts of the world. And, because of the comprehensive global extent, the demand-supply gap needs to be recognized and measures to solve it undertaken immediately. Yes, there is a problem of how little fresh water there is on earth, but the more urgent concern should be how we currently use and manage it. With air and land, water should be considered our most precious resource. As such, it should be cared for with future generations in mind.

There are, indeed, concerns voiced by many organizations that we are reaching a pivotal point regarding use of resources with our activities on earth. However, contrary to common belief, I feel it will not be overpopulation, an economic disaster, running out of fossil fuels, or climate change—but rather lack of water that will be the turning point. Why? Because we have used and continue to abuse fresh water as if it is a renewable resource and infinite in quantity. It is not.

While there is a gap between water demand and the ability to provide a truly sustainable supply, there is a much larger disparity between what needs to be done to close that gap and what is actually being accomplished.

Freshwater resources are scarce—just 2.5 percent of all water on earth, and 70 percent of that is locked in glaciers, snow, and the atmosphere. This leaves accessible fresh water at less than 1 percent. While some water is replenished through the natural evaporation/precipitation cycle, much is gathered from underground aquifers or surface water, such as rivers and streams.  Many aquifers are being drawn down at rates as high as 250 times their ability to recharge. With surface water sources, there are already heated debates and arguments between those areas and countries using upstream water systems and the effects on those reliant on the very same waterways downstream. Diversion, use for industries and energy, and pollution all affect surface water sources globally. At 93% of total global water consumption, the largest sector using our freshwater, however, is agriculture—with nearly 50% of all water use being taken up by livestock. Once again—50% of all the water used on earth is given to the animals raised and then killed for you to eat. How much do we use for our own drinking purposes? Less than 1% of all water consumed annually.

There are 70 billion animals raised and killed each year on earth. They all require water. A few billion of these animals need up to 30 gallons per day—that’s over 100 times what we, as individuals, need to consume daily. Many sources have calculated that it requires, on average, 2,500 gallons to produce just one pound of beef, with the average American consuming 250 to 300 pounds of meat each year. It needs to be kept in mind that while irrigation is responsible for the majority of global water use, it is the irrigation of crops and drinking water that are both given directly to livestock that is the problem. If, for example, the food we all chose to eat on earth were plant-based, livestock would be taken out of the equation and only a fraction of the water normally used for producing meat would than be needed (1/200 on average, if irrigation was needed at all). Choosing to eat only plant-based foods would essentially omit the middle step in our current inefficient system that uses the vast majority of our fresh water on earth to provide sustenance for animals that we then turn around and eat. Doesn’t make much sense. Timely correction of this vastly archaic agricultural system obviously needs to be at the very center of any global water management strategy.

To be sure, globally we face many varied challenges with water management, and not all related to food choice. For instance China has, and will continue to have, a significant water quality issue with their rapid growth of its use in industry. Still, China also has the largest rate of increase in beef consumption, which will continue to implicate them, as well as all other developed countries such as the U.S., in water waste. India and many African countries, with 90% water usage going to a less industrialized agriculture, can close the water demand-supply gap significantly simply by implementing water saving measures with improved irrigation, soil preservation and fertility techniques, and reduction of inefficient use of water if it is given to livestock or feedcrops. However, similar to our greenhouse gas emission issues with livestock contributing 20%, the very best method for management of our water scarcity problem is to simply eliminate the largest and most unnecessary contributor—livestock.

I believe that there should be economic policies established immediately based on water use. Previous and current mentality has been business as usual and it is demand based—meaning, where there is any increase in ‘need’ or demand for water, it is met with problem solving to provide more (i.e. desalinization, deeper wells, diversion or “borrow” from nearby surface water). A prime example is where there is now recognition of a serious potential water shortage in the Great Plain States due to the massive depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer. The proposed solution is to engineer a pipeline to ‘borrow’ water from the Great Lakes, hundreds of miles away. This, then, would be the “solution”, knowing that the vast majority (trillions of gallons) of irreplaceable water is being pumped from this Ice Age water source each year to give to livestock rather than to simply not use it for this purpose.

We need to reduce demand by recognizing those sectors using the most water and establish parameters and economic incentives to minimize consumption. This could be accomplished with water being one of the components of an “eco-tax” that I propose in my book “Comfortably Unaware”. If the vast amounts of water used for raising and slaughtering livestock were taxed appropriately (proportionate to total global use and value based on ability to renew the resource) and had to be paid for by producers and consumers, we would be well on our way to solving the water scarcity problem.

Now, a final note about grass-fed or pastured livestock.

Remember, the water currently used to support our livestock industry is not sustainable—why would that change with animals raised on pasture? It really wouldn’t. There is still the enormous drain on our water supply by the slaughtering and transfer processes requiring as much as another 400 to 500 gallons per cow. And the proponents of this must think that the animals, if free ranging, will mysteriously not need to drink the same outrageous thousands of gallons of water per animal per year. If anything, the amount would most likely be increased because of the higher activity level of each cow or pig, and they need to live longer to achieve the appropriate weight gain prior to slaughter. All of this water will need to come from somewhere—aquifers or surface water (lakes, ponds, rivers, streams). Whether the animals are grass-fed or not, this is water that could be used directly for human consumption or to produce foods more efficiently such as plant based foods. We know that it requires on average 2,500 but up to 5,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef (650–1000 gallons per burger). If this figure is adjusted to reflect pasture only that is being fed to the livestock, it will still require 21,000–22,000 gallons over a 24-month period to raise just one cow. That amount of water is the equivalent of a person taking a five-minute shower each and every day for 6.7 years.

Fifty years ago, who would have thought we would ever run out of fresh water on earth? No one. In fact, very few today give water a thought, especially to the trillions of gallons irreversibly given to animals we raise each year to then slaughter and eat—and, that is precisely why we have a problem.

More perspectives on how our choice of foods effect global water depletion can be found in Chapter VI of “Comfortably Unaware.”