In an ad last week in the Wall Street Journal, Fidelity Investments made the claim that “It takes 635 gals. of water to make one hamburger.” The source of their claim is Global Water Partnership.
Global Water Partnership doesn’t say exactly how it arrived at this estimate and one should question the accuracy of any estimate that purports to tell you how much water you need to produce a hamburger without actually telling you the size of the burger. And were they including the bun and condiments?
Elsewhere on its website, Global Water Partnership cite FAO Water statistics that it takes 13,000-15,000 liters of water to produce 1 kilo of grain-fed beef (1 kilo is about 2.2 lbs.). But these global figures do not apply to beef produced in the U.S., where production is highly efficient at creating more food with fewer inputs such as water and feed.
In fact, back in 1993 UC Davis did a peer-reviewed study on water use by the U.S. cattle industry. The result was the determination that about it takes 110 gals. to produce one quarter pounder (not including the bun and all that). Water use by the beef industry has only improved since then.
There is plenty of research that the amount of water used in our industry is far less than it used to be and that we are reducing our carbon footprint! A study by Washington State University in 2007 found that today’s farmers and ranchers raise 13% more beef from 13% fewer cattle. When compared with beef production in 1977, each pound of beef produced today:
• Produces 18% fewer carbon emissions,
• Takes 30% less land, and
• Requires 14% less water.