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.