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Summer's almost here, and media are talking about drought. So they should be. But what they don't include in these discussions is a major factor in drought both locally and globally: livestock for meat and dairy foods.

Radio and other media urge people to turn off garden sprinklers and take shorter showers. Meanwhile, however, agriculture uses 70% of global fresh water, much of it for excessive production of meat, dairy, and eggs.

Growing plant proteins is far more water-efficient than growing animal ones.

Producing meat uses disproportionate amounts of (scarce!) fresh water, much more than is required to produce plant-based proteins. Making beef requires about six times as much water as does making lentils and other pulses, according to the international Water Footprint Network. Livestock animals eat a lot of crops, and those crops need water to grow. 

The province in which I live, British Columbia, produces a lot of meat and dairy. Yet when media interview local officials about drought, we hear terms like "natural disaster." That's what BC's Minister for Emergency Management and Climate Readiness Bowinn Ma has called BC droughts.  Considering the scientific evidence, however, we'd be more accurate calling our droughts "ecological disasters” caused in significant part by excessive animal agriculture.

Media acts as if this is a taboo topic.  But even Health Canada, in its latest food guide, says Canadians need to cut back significantly on meat consumption. Countless scientific articles (such as the EAT-Lancet Report and this 2018 study by Poore and Nemecek) demonstrate that the world needs to scale way back on meat and dairy for reasons including climate, water conservation, biodiversity protection, and public heath.  

Young people aren’t afraid of this topic, and in many regions (such as BC and Ontario) are leading societies by eating less meat or going vegan.

High-meat-production countries need to shift agricultural priorities

Why is media reluctant to say that BC, along with other jurisdictions around the world, needs to produce less meat and dairy?  

Some media coverage has even featured cattle ranchers, wringing their hands about not having enough water for their livestock — as if they were merely victims rather than significant contributors to the problem.

The facts are that:

  • Despite providing only 18% of the global calorie supply and 37% of protein supply, animal agriculture is responsible for approximately 60% of the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.
  • Animal agriculture is estimated to contribute at least 15% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, which are warming our planet and causing drought.
  • Production of meat, especially beef and dairy products, uses more (already scarce) fresh water than does production of plant-based proteins (even manufactured ones).
  • Plant-based ‘milks’ require less water to produce than does dairy milk. (See graph below.)
  • Not only environmental organizations, but also peer-reviewed scientific articles/groups say that beef and dairy production are significant drivers of water shortages.

That histogram is from:

Read more about the connection between animal agriculture, climate, and water use in the study I've attached below:

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