As usual when it comes to the topic of drought, there’s a giant elephant in the room that almost no one wants to talk about. In California, the elephant is a cow and the unmentionable subject is animal agriculture.
While everyone’s talking about cutting personal use of water by 25 percent and that almonds cost three gallons of water per nut, what we’re not being told is that a single quarter-pound hamburger costs 660 gallons of water.
Or that a single gallon of milk costs 1,000 gallons of water.
According to the Pacific Institute’s Assessment of California’s Water Footprint, no less than 47 percent of California’s water is used for meat and dairy products:
More than 90 percent of California’s water footprint is associated with agricultural products: meat and dairy products have especially large water footprints due to the water-intensive feed required to raise the animals.
An additional 4 percent of the state’s water footprint is associated with direct household water consumption (primarily for watering lawns and gardens), and the remaining 3 percent with other industrial products we consume, such as clothing and electronics.
But when it comes the topic of animal agriculture, there’s a deafening silence. So, while the Los Angeles Times discusses the question of “high-value crops such as almonds,” it doesn’t mention alfalfa, a huge water sucker that’s fed almost exclusively to cows.
What you’re not being told is that a single quarter-pound hamburger costs 660 gallons of water. And while the New York Times writes at length about oranges, tomatoes, almonds, walnuts, vine crops and more, and calls what’s happening in California “a case study in the unwise use of natural resources,” you won’t find even a mention of the words “animal”, “beef” or “dairy”.
A few writers do take the bull by the horns. Stephen Wells of the Animal Legal Defense Fund writes:
Simply put, household water use is a drop in the bucket. We can stop showering, stop watering our lawns, and stop ordering water in restaurants, but the water used to raise and slaughter millions of cows, pigs, and chickens in California will still drain the state dry.
And on Democracy Now, Keegan Kuhn and Kip Anderson, directors of the documentary “Cowspiracy: the Sustainability Secret” argue that raising and killing cows, pigs and chickens is the leading cause of deforestation, water consumption and pollution.
(The relevant segment of the full show comes toward the end of this video, and should begin there automatically. If it doesn’t, just go to the 39:50 minutes point.)
It’s hard to wrap your head around the numbers that Kuhn and Anderson quote:
- Fracking uses about 100 billion gallons of water every year in the U.S. But animal agriculture uses in excess of 34 trillion gallons. And the emissions that come from animal agriculture are about equal to natural gas and petroleum production.
- Domestic water use is only 5 percent of what is consumed in the U.S. versus 55 percent for animal agriculture.
- A pound of beef in California takes from 2,500 to 8,000 gallons of water to produce.
They also note that most environmental organizations steer clear of the issue of animal agriculture altogether:
“You go onto these organizations’ websites and their mission statements and they don’t mention the greatest destruction across the board. Nearly every single environmental destruction that’s happening today is from this one industry, and yet you do not hear about this or they don’t want to talk about this.”
Nor are most animal protection groups any better than the environmental groups. Only a handful of them focus on the fact that the single best way to resolve the California drought and other aspects of the growing climate crisis is to bring an end to animal agriculture. PETA quotes the Cowspiracy film with “12 Reasons Why Going Vegan Is the Best Way to Solve California (and The World’s) Drought.” And groups like Mercy for Animals, Farm Sanctuary and the Farm Animal Rights Movement soldier on in their efforts to persuade us to go vegan.
If humane groups can’t get with the program, how on Earth can anyone else be expected to? But you’ll have a hard time finding anything about the issue on the websites of the Humane Society of the U.S. or the ASPCA.
And most national so-called animal protection groups, along with local humane societies and SPCAs, are still serving meat at donor dinners, and their “vegetarian” lunches for staff and visitors include dairy and eggs (perhaps with a “vegan option”).
If humane groups can’t get with the program, how on Earth can anyone else be expected to?
The bottom line is very simple: If you’re still eating animal foods, you’re not a humane organization and you’re neither “saving” them nor protecting them.
And with drought and other crises now beginning to engulf the whole nation and the world beyond, these “humane” groups are just another part of the problem.