The Water Footprint of Alfalfa and Meat

Agriculture accounts for 80% of water consumption in California. This mainly accounts for the growing of the plant Alfalfa. Alfalfa is a plant grown to feed livestock. Beef consists of a large portion of the American diet. In order to feed these animals the production of Alfalfa is increased significantly due to the increase in demand for a beef hungry diet. Beef has a water footprint of 4 million gallons per ton produced. This is far more than any other crop.

Additionally, the way that meat is being produced today is different than it was decades ago. Because the meat is not being handled the same way, when it does not reach standards of the FDA this also means that water is wasted. According to a New York Times article, when 8.7 million pounds of beef are wasted that is roughly equivalent to 631.6 million gallons of water wasted. That is equivalent to about 15 million barrels.

If we relied less on a meat heavy diet and replaced 50% of the animal products normally consumed, there would be a 30% decrease in an individual’s water footprint. If individuals had a vegetarian diet, their water footprint would be decreased even more to about 60%. Seeking out less meat hungry diets will help to conserve the amount of water used for Alfalfa.

4 thoughts on “The Water Footprint of Alfalfa and Meat

  1. This is a very interesting take on the fresh water sustainability issue. I similarly looked at meat consumption, but I did not look at any states in specific. Seeing your statistic on California with 80% of their water consumption going towards the livestock industry, I find this number to be particularly daunting, showing the true severity of this issue. I wonder if converting to vegetarian diets would greatly reduce the impacts of the livestock industry on water consumption, or if the dairy industry would still keep this number high? Could there be significant differences between vegetarian and vegan diets in terms of helping environmental sustainability practices?

  2. I think its interesting that you brought up the waste component within the context of meat production and consumption. People often don’t finish their food, or grocery stores often have meat that goes bad before anyone can purchase it. Whilst eating meat can be wasteful, and harmful to the environment; the fact that there is so much food that gets produced and doesn’t get eaten is unfortunate.

  3. I love this blog post because you tie everything together from beginning to end. It’s super easy to read and comprehensive given your entire turn around with statistics and how we can all improve the water waste crises by eating a vegetarian diet. I do think it’s ironic that California uses so much water for agriculture when it is always in a detrimental drought and constant wild fires are spread. One would think California would be more conscientious about water usage but apparently not!

  4. I like your solutions because its simple and can be easily accomplished. If the extra production of meat is just waste thats unnecessary diet strictly of meat. These numbers could serve as proof that there should be change to a more vegetarian diet, to decrease the water footprint.

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