Meat, Water and Planet Earth

Smt. Maneka Gandhi, Union Cabinet minister in the Ministry of Women and Child development Govt. of India writes in the Statesman dated February 25, 2018 under the caption ‘We’re running out of water’ as follows –

If you were an alien that dropped in on the planet and you heard that most people on the
planet had access to less than a bucket of water a day, because other people used ridiculous amounts of water to grow, feed, clean and kill animals so that they could eat them– when they didn’t need to– what would you say?

The meat industry uses a third of the world’s fresh water directly or indirectly. The global production of meat is moving towards doubling, from 229 million metric tons in the year 2000 to a projected 465 million metric tons by 2050. The burden on this planet’s water resources is already unsustainable.

To understand the gravity of this situation, consider this fact– if every country in the world were to follow the high meat consumption patterns of America, the world would have already run out of water in the year 2000.

However, with India and China becoming increasingly non-vegetarian, we are going to run out of water in another 25 years– and many of you will be alive to see this. As many as 40 billion animals are killed every year. The largest number of victims of this annual massacre is chickens, so while they are smaller than cattle, they make up in sheer numbers.

Poultry is a booming industry in India, with chicken meat being projected to the masses as a cheap and nutritious food. One kg of chicken in India can be bought for as less as Rs 100, which is sometimes cheaper than even dal. The Global Agricultural Information Network says that the consumption of processed chicken in India is rising rapidly at 15-20 per cent per year. In 2017, chicken production increased by seven per cent, reaching 4.5 million tonnes. According to the Indian Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries, an estimated 238 crore chickens were slaughtered for their meat in 2016-17 in India. About 70 per cent of this poultry production is controlled by large companies, which run hatcheries, feed mills and slaughter facilities– using huge amounts of water at every stage of production.

Water is used for producing the grain feed for chickens, for their drinking, maintenance of their surroundings, for killing and cleaning the birds and then processing their meat. Poultry creates a huge amount of water pollution at different stages of production, so that water cannot be recycled, used for crops, or drunk. It is full of antibiotics and pesticides and creates a massive health problem if anything is
grown with it. These two factors combined– water used and water polluted– create the high water footprint of poultry.

238 crore birds means more than double the population of India. If each simply took
one litre a day, even then it means 238 crore litres daily– more than is available
to the humans in all the villages of North India. But it is NOT one litre a day, or 365
litres a year. It is far, far more.

Poultry birds consume corn, soybean meal, pearl millet, broken wheat and broken rice–
mostly concentrates, which are grown with artificial irrigation. On an average, the
production of one kilogram of these concentrates requires 1,000 litres of water.
If poultry birds were being fed the natural way, by being allowed to graze, the
concentrates required would be 40 per cent, but the modern industrial poultry
confines them to small cages where they have to be fed 70 per cent concentrates in
the bird feed. Since most farms use chemical fertilizers to expedite the growth of feed, they pollute many more litres of water in the process, adding to the water footprint.

In a poultry facility with 1000 birds, approximately 400 litres of water is used daily
for drinking purposes. Modern broiler houses, which have cramped cages with birds in spaces that they cannot even raise their wings, need cooling systems to keep the hot, irritable birds alive. These cooling methods utilise large amounts of water during hot weather. More water is also used in clearing the excreta and shed feathers of the birds, and cleaning the area.

Birds are stunned in huge electric water baths before being killed. These use a large
amount of water and have to be changed frequently as the birds defecate and urinate
as they die. Their bodies are dipped into boiling water for the process of scalding –
to help remove feathers. After this, the body is again dipped in cold water to
maintain the quality of its skin. Thousands of litres of water go into evisceration– the removal of the internal organs of the bird, to make it ready for consumption. Water is used in the cleaning and sanitation of equipment and facilities, and for cooling the compressors and pumps. Just the processing of the dead body is estimated to take 35 litres per bird. Multiply 238 crores by that.

The wastewater let out from these processing plants contains pollutants and suspended matter. This is usually not treated properly before being let out, and it pollutes the water in the surrounding areas making it unfit for any other use. On an average, an estimated 4,325 litres of water goes into the production of just one kilogram of chicken meat. When you eat a kg of chicken, you are drinking 4325 litres – more than one village gets in Uttar
Pradesh in a week. This compares to 322 litres for one kg of vegetables, 962 litres
for one kg of fruit and 1,644 litres for a kg of cereals and grains.

India has the best vegetarian food in the world, the largest array of vegetables and grains. Pulses and soya are good alternative sources of protein, which require much less water. One gram of protein from chicken uses 34 litres of water for its production. The same gram of protein from pulses uses only 19 litres of water. India is not in a position to be indulging in water wastage for this kind of luxury. Water shortage, drought and famine are a present reality for us. Richer countries are importing virtual water from us in the form of chicken and eggs, but it will be developing countries like ours that will first see the effects of a world without water.

No, you cannot do what Israel is doing: using machines to turn the ocean water into drinking water. The oceans are being rapidly drained of fish and already there are a large number of dead zones in the ocean where nothing grows — you can look these up on Google. The water is dead and no one can use it for anything. If you want to turn into an environmentalist and humanitarian, just stop eating meat.

1. The above discussion on the increasingly abominable shortage of water on Earth is both awakening and alarming. Reasons for this may be ascribed due to the luxurious living habits, indiscriminate use of surface and underground water for higher food production, expansion of urban habitat and consumerist life style, rapid industrial growth, food habits, limitless competition between countries to generate more power and military preparedness contributive to global warming and pollution
hazards etc. Some of these at least, may be effectively regulated by adopting Dharmic
practices implanting humane values, through planned intervention at the national level and arousing human awareness.

We have reported in our earlier issue how the Prince of Saudi Arabia is sincerely trying
his utmost with his father to turn his countrymen into vegan or vegetarian and making efforts to develop tasteful vegetarian items in hotels and restaurants.

2. PTI reports the following from Beijing, China on February 26, 2018 under the
caption – ‘Chinese are giving up on meat and turning vegetarian–Here’s Why’: China’s
restaurant industry over the past few years is reporting growing number of entrepreneurs looking to capitalise on the popularity of healthy eating, which usually means a meatless, organic and environmentally-friendly diet. – the world’s largest market for beef, pork and poultry –is steadily growing wary of meat as health-conscious Chinese are taking to a vegetarian diet that has sparked mushrooming of vegan restaurants in the world’s most populous country.

China’s restaurant industry over the past few years is reporting growing number
of entrepreneurs looking to capitalise on the popularity of healthy eating, which
usually means a meatless, organic and environmentally-friendly diet. Han Lili, a Shanghai-based artist who has tracked and mapped vegetarian and vegan restaurants in major Chinese cities including Shanghai, Chengdu, Lhasa, and Hong Kong since 2012, said it had been difficult to accurately count the number in operation in the past year or two because the market changed so rapidly.

In Shanghai, China’s largest city, the number of vegan outlets soared from 49 in 2012 to more than 100 last year, she said. In Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, almost half the 80 eateries needed updating after her last count. A report by research firm Euromonitor said though China is still the world’s biggest market for pork, beef and poultry, the demand showed a decline in recent years. A report by said
sales of pork declined from 42.49 million tonnes in 2014 to 40.85 million tonnes in 2016.
The Chinese meat industry adds around 150 million tonnes of carbon dioxide to the
atmosphere every year, according to one study.

The growing trend of vegetarianism showed more Chinese turning to fruits and
vegetables. China currently consumes 40 per cent of the world’s fruit and vegetables,
indicating the growing trend of vegetarianism in China. UN trade figures show that between 2010 and 2016, China’s imports of avocados rose from 1.9 tonnes to 25,000 tonnes a 13,000- fold increase.

According to one study, the vegan market in China is expected to rise by more
than 17 per cent between 2015 and 2020. This will be the fastest rate of growth
internationally in this time period and suggests a huge shift in consumer habits
in Asia. Popular actor Huang Xuan said his family is eating more and more vegetarian food, a change from the traditional diet in his native province of Gansu in China’s
northwest, which is high in beef and mutton. He thinks it’s because people are more
aware of the links between meat-eating, high blood pressure and obesity.

In 2014, state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Public Radio International, an
independent non-profit multi-media organisation, reporting that China’s vegan
population has reached more than 50 million. According to the world vegetarian
outfits, India where vegetarianism was rooted in religion and culture estimated to have over 500 million vegetarians who shun meat in their meal.

Significantly, the vegan culture is spreading among young people in China which has a population of over 1.3 billion., a youth news portal has reported that “….the college is embracing a heartening trend toward vegetarianism in a society where most square meals contain pork, chicken, or beef.” Stories like this have played out across more and more Chinese universities, driven by the recently established
Universities and Colleges Vegetarian Association (UCVA).This organisation for
college vegetarians was founded at Beijing’s Tsinghua University on World
Earth Day last year. “Alongside the rise of animal protectionism…more and more young
Chinese are viewing vegetarianism as a healthy, eco-friendly, and trendy lifestyle,”
the Sixthtone report said. (The Times of India, Feb. 26, 2018)

3. It is indeed a praiseworthy effort of the Chinese youth who have been strictly nonvegetarian since centuries are turning to vegetarian food against traditional meat rich diet. The emerging concern of youth against consumption of pork, chicken and beef is not unfounded and is based on health consciousness. The state-run Xinhua news
agency quoted Public Radio International in



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