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Don't Cows Waste Water?

July 2, 2020


One common narrative that makes for great, simplistic posters for school children is that it takes 10 full bathtubs of water to produce a  quarter-pound burger.

What does that mean?

Almost all of the water attributed to the water footprint of cattle is the rain that would have fallen on the pasture, whether or not the animals were there. What cattle need for drinking water is a very small percentage of the water calculation.

Let me explain....With any study examining water usage, it’s important to know what exactly we’re measuring. Types of water measured include green water, blue water, and gray water.

1. Green water is precipitation stored in the soil or rests on top of the soil or plants. Eventually, this water evaporates or the crops take it up.
2. Bluewater is fresh surface and groundwater—what’s found in lakes, rivers, and aquifers.
3. Greywater is something else altogether.

In typical cattle production, green water is about 92% of the total water calculation. This means 92% of the water attributed to beef production is rain that would have fallen even if the cattle weren’t alive. In grass-finished beef, the green water number is closer to 97–98%.

The actual “blue water” or fresh surface or groundwater needed for a pound of beef is LESS than what is needed for rice, avocados, walnuts, and sugar.

Maybe instead of Meatless Mondays, we should recommend “Rice-Free Fridays” and “Sugar-Free Saturdays”?

Written by Diana Rodgers - info@sustainabledish.com

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