Thursday, May 03, 2007


The latest publication of BG-Green-Zine ( a local mag about making Bowling Green more sustainable) just reported that it takes 5200 gallons of water to produce 1 lb of beef, and encouraged a reduction in ( at least factory farmed) beef. It encouraged the use of organic, family farmed, local beef. This was among a number of tips for every day conservation. No evidence was offered that would indicate less water use in the case of organic or local beef production, so I’m not sure why it would be superior with regards to water usage.

Green-Zine is not the first to cite the 5200 gallon figure. Many groups have used it, making such claims as people consume enough beef to float a battleship in terms of the associated water input required to produce it. I did find a 1978 study on my own that corroborated the 5200 figure, but also found studies with numbers 2500, 840, and UC Davis research citing 441 gallons of water per pound of beef. The NCBA ‘National Cattleman’s Beef Association lists 435 gallons as the official estimate. (one group criticized this research because one of the researchers wore a cowboy hat-indicating industry connections). As indicated in my previous entries on beef, beef production is more environmentally friendly than ever before.( see 'beef ' label at end) If it is true in 1978 that it required 5200 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef, then in a worse case scenario where it would require 2500 gallons of water, beef production is about 200% more water-use-efficient than 28 years ago. If the NCBA figures are correct, then beef production is 12 times more water efficient than 28 years ago.

These numbers should only improve with the introduction biotech feed crops that are more drought tolerant and require less water. I doubt that the improvements in organic production will keep pace with the recent advancements we’ve seen. So, if there ever was a time to eat beef, now is it! The environmental foot print is smaller than ever.


Anonymous said...

Even if "the environmental footprint is smaller than ever," beef still has the biggest environmental footprint of any food. Beef is inefficient, unhealthy, detrimental to the environment, and totally unneccessary for human health or survival. It should be saved for special occasions only.

agEconomist said...

Not only is beef greener than ever, it is also healthier than ever relative to other protein sources.
On average 20 of the 29 lean beef cuts have only 1 more gram of saturated fat than a skinless chicken breast per 3-ounce serving.In additon, beef is not only low fat, but also very nutrient-rich. Compared to a skinless chicken breast, beef has eight times more vitamin B12, six times more zinc and two and a half times more iron.

Alex Bartlett said...

ageconomist, I just came upon your blog today. I also think the relation between natural resources and the economy is rather interesting.

But you failed to respond to Anonymous's point, which was beef has a larger environmental footprint most other foods. Which, I can only say, would be sensible to agree with. You also need to highly reconsider the healthiness of beef. Frankly, having a certain number of nutriets per serving is not what makes a food healthy. Eating a variety of foods, the author of "French Women Don't Get Fat" recommends 20 per day, is the surest way to ensure balanced nutrition. Also, the lower on the food chain, or the lower the trophic level of the things you eat, the less likely your body is to intercept harmful compounds. This is called biological magnification. Try this link.

agEconomist said...

I certianly remember biomagnification from biology 120, which would apply not only to beef, but seafood and other meat as well. And, I agree that eating a variety of foods is much healthier than consuming just a few staples. It would be a way of diverisfying the risk of ingesting unhealthy compounds.When we talk about consuming beef, we are talking about a 6 ounce serving as part of a balanced diet (that you are advocating), which certainly would include nutrient dense beef ( I haven't even mentioned the benefits of conguageted linoleic fatty acids)

Even if beef production leaves a large environmental footprint ( which is becoming less and less)there is no reason to exclude it from our diets. Buying local, driving ( any type of automobile, browsing the internet etc. are all energy intensive activities that we don't abstain from just because there are less energy intensive options such as walking,or reading print. But just like with beef production, technology and capitalism are allowing us to do all of these things with a smaller footprint than before.

IF we are really concerned about our food choices and the resulting environmental foot print, than more so than excluding one item from our diets such as beef, we should always buy in bulkfrom places like Wal-MArt or SAMS Club vs. local markets, and never eat in a restaurant. To me, these things are not practical or desirable.

I appreciate your comments, and thank you for visiting my blog.