Animal factories rely upon excessive amounts of water and endanger communities by contaminating their sources of drinking water. Raising animals in industrial factory systems and intensive production of feed crops requires incredible amounts of precious water resources, resulting in excessive water consumption per unit of animal protein produced.
Producing meat in intensive industrial systems requires large volumes of water: one pound of beef requires 1,799 gallons of water, one pound of pork requires 576 gallons water, and one pound of chicken requires 468 gallons of water.DID YOU KNOW?
In part, this water use is attributed to the water-intensive feed crops that we feed animals: corn and soybeans. Irrigation for feed crops alone accounts for seven percent of global water use. Beef production takes 100 times the amount of water to produce the equivalent amount of plant protein. Intensive feed crop production also relies on large amounts of fertilizer that can contaminate local water resources due to nutrient runoff from crop fields, which can lead to dead zones in freshwater sources. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Program declared animal factories and the livestock sector as major players in raising water depletion levels.
Animal factories also produce enormous quantities of manure that are difficult to manage. Many CAFOs liquefy the animal waste and store it in “manure lagoons.” This abundance of waste can lead to overflowing manure storage systems and/or excessive application of manure to fields. Pathogens, chemicals, and residues in animal factory manures can contaminate ground and surface water.
Routine uses of antibiotics are prohibited in organic production, which means pharmaceuticals are not leaching into surrounding water sources.DID YOU KNOW?
Manure lagoons at animal factories, even though many are lined, can easily break and leach contaminants into surrounding soil and water sources, which will remain for prolonged periods of time. Animal factory waste contains antibiotics, hormones, pathogens, heavy metals, and other animal drugs that cause algal blooms and unsanitary drinking water sources. The U.S. Geological Survey stated that manure from animal factories is the cause of poor water quality in significant areas across the country due to discovered contaminants.
Reducing overall consumption of meat and poultry proteins; sourcing certified humane, organic, and/or pasture-raised meats; and increasing portions of whole plant proteins in your diet can play a critical role in replenishing and protecting water sources.
- Plant-based proteins are produced using less water than animal production. Farming plants, instead of animals, also reduces negative impacts on water quality. For example: one pound of avocados requires 141 gallons of water and one pound of broccoli requires 34 gallons of water; both amounts are significantly less than the 1,799 pounds of water required to produce one pound of beef.
- A 30-year field trial demonstrated that organic crop production stores and utilizes water more efficiently than conventional production. Organic farming systems enhance restoration of water quality by preserving the surrounding biodiversity and conserving resources on farm ecosystems. Organic systems also improve the water holding capacity of soils.
- Pasture-raised cattle rely on grasses watered by rain, instead of irrigated feed crops. Relying on rain fed grasses greatly reduces the impact of drawing from surrounding water resources. Not relying on irrigated feed crops also means reduced indirect water contamination from fertilizer runoff.
- Through managed grazing, pasture-raised cattle can actually enhance the surrounding ecosystem services by improving soils and water retention rates. Healthy soils and grasslands in pasture-raised cattle systems have high water-retention capacity, replenishing rather than depleting local water sources.