Just How Thirsty is Your Beef Burger? The Staggering Truth About Beef’s Water Footprint

As a lifelong meat lover and burger buff, I’ve chomped my way through pounds of juicy beef patties over the years. But it wasn’t until recently that I discovered just how incredibly water-intensive it is to produce all that beef I’ve been scarfing down. We’re talking thousands of gallons of water for just one burger!

In this article, I’ll reveal the shocking truth about how much H2O it really takes to raise cattle and produce beef. I guarantee these insane water footprints will make you think twice before taking another bite of that burger. Let’s dive into the murky world of beef’s water usage!

Why Beef Has a Big Water Footprint

It takes a massive amount of water to grow the grain, hay and pasture used to feed cattle throughout their lifetimes.

In fact, the water footprint of 1 kg of beef is around 13,500 liters – over 3,500 gallons! That’s equivalent to the average amount of water an American family of 4 uses in about 2 months. Yikes!

Here are some key reasons why it’s so water-intensive to produce beef

  • Water to Grow Cattle Feed – Producing the grains and hay cattle eat takes lots of water for crop irrigation.

  • Water for Drinking – A cow drinks 30-50 gallons of water per day, adding up over their lifetime.

  • Long Production Cycle – From birth to slaughter, cattle live about 2 years, consuming water the whole time.

When you add up all the water usage over the multi-year lifespan of cattle, beef ends up having one of the highest water footprints of common foods.

The Beef Water Footprint vs Other Foods

To give you a sense of how beef compares, here’s the water footprint estimates for 1 kg of some common foods:

  • Beef – 13,500 L
  • Pork – 5,900 L
  • Chicken – 4,300 L
  • Soybeans – 1,870 L
  • Wheat – 1,608 L
  • Corn – 1,222 L

As you can see, beef dwarfs all other animal proteins and plant crops in the amount of water needed per kg. It’s no contest – beef blows away the competition when it comes to H2O usage.

In fact, the water required for just one 150g beef burger patty is often more than the average human uses in one whole day of drinking, cleaning and flushing. Shocking!

Visualizing All That Water Usage

To put beef’s insane water footprint into perspective, here are some crazy comparisons:

  • 13,500 L to produce 1 kg beef is equal to ~115 bathtubs filled with water!

  • It takes over 53,000 L of water to produce just 4 quarter pounder burger patties. That’s more than enough to fill a small backyard swimming pool!

  • 1 million liters of water (the amount to produce 75 kg of beef) would run an average family’s tap nonstop for 3 entire years!

As you can see, the volume of water usage behind beef production is almost beyond imagination. It’s no wonder beef has one of the biggest water footprints of any food.

Where Does the Water to Produce Beef Come From?

The vast majority of water used to produce beef is “green water” – rainwater that nourishes pastures and crops cattle eat:

  • Green Water – Over 90% of the water footprint of beef. Rain that falls on land used for grazing and growing cattle feed.

  • Blue Water – About 3% of beef’s water use. Irrigation of cattle feed from surface and groundwater sources.

  • Grey Water – Around 7% of usage. Freshwater polluted during beef production processes.

While most of this H2O falls from the sky as rain, beef production accounts for about 20% of the total global blue water consumption for agriculture. And the water pollution generated has major environmental impacts.

Lowering Beef’s Water Footprint

The astronomical water usage involved in modern beef production is clearly unsustainable. Here are some ways the industry could reduce beef’s water footprint:

  • Grass-fed – Feeding cattle mainly pasture instead of irrigated grains significantly reduces water usage.

  • Better Irrigation – Using precision irrigation for cattle feed crops decreases water wastage.

  • Water Recycling – Reusing and recycling water in beef processing facilities reduces withdrawals.

  • Pasture Management – Improving the health and productivity of grazing lands boosts water efficiency.

There are viable ways to take some of the strain off freshwater resources needed to produce beef. But switching to less water-intensive proteins like chicken and pork can have the biggest impact.

Evaluating Your Beef Burger in a New Light

For burger lovers like me, discovering beef’s massive water footprint has definitely been eye opening. The next time I sink my teeth into a juicy patty, I’ll be visualizing the thousands of gallons of water it took to produce it.

Of course, I don’t plan to give up burgers completely. But I will be more mindful of the super-size water impact of beef compared to other proteins. Maybe I’ll do “Meatless Mondays” and sub in a spicy black bean burger instead.

I’ll also ask restaurants and brands about their beef sourcing, and choose ones using more sustainable practices when I can. Voting with our dollars helps encourage the industry to reduce beef’s water footprint over time.

Small changes add up. But at least now when I enjoy a good old burger and fries, I’ll truly appreciate just how much water went into creating that all-American meal. Bottoms up to moderation and sustainability!

How much water is needed to produce a pound of beef?


How much water does it take to make 1 kg of beef?

Water consumption, litres
1 kg
1 kg
Sheep Meat
1 kg
1 kg

How much water is used to produce beef?

While it’s a well-established fact that meat production requires more water than fruits, vegetables or grains, an average water footprint of 2,000 gallons per pound of beef (we now generally use 1,850 gallons per pound) is enormous.

How much water does it take to produce 1 pound of beef?

Do you know what food has the largest global water footprint? Beef. It takes approximately 1,847 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef — that’s enough water to fill 39 bathtubs all the way to the top. For only one pound of beef?

How much water to produce 1kg of chicken?

Let’s take a look at other water consumption data. For instance, to produce 1kg of pork we need approximately 6,000 litres of water. 1kg of chicken meat requires 4,300 litres.

How much water does a kilo of beef use?

If you buy 1kg of beef for a barbecue at the weekend, there has been an average of 15,415 liters of water used in its production! Breaking up meat’s monopoly as the most thirsty food type is nuts, with 9,063 liters of water needed to produce the average kilo.

How much water do you need to produce meat?

However, it’s also true that meat production requires a much higher amount of water than vegetable production. To produce one kilogram of meat requires between 5,000 and 20,000 litres of water, whereas to produce one kilogram of wheat requires between 500 and 4,000 litres of water.

How much water does a pound of meat take to produce?

Include an ice-cold soda at 46, and this typical lunch took 206 gallons of water to produce. Click image to view larger version. Pound for pound, meat has a much higher water footprint than vegetables, grains or beans. 4 A single pound of beef takes, on average, 1,800 gallons of water to produce.

How much water does a pound of boneless beef use?

Water use estimates, or water footprints (defined as the amount of water used per unit of product), are available in the scientific literature and indicate that water footprints range from 317 1 up to 23,965 2 gallons per pound of boneless beef. Why is the range so large?

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