• THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF BEEF PRODUCTION

    17th September 2015

    Adjournment speech.

    Water usage in beef production.

    BEEF PRODUCTION ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

    The Hon. MARK PEARSON [3.38 p.m.]: When thinking about water use, our immediate focus is on how much water we use from taps or tanks around the house and garden. Perhaps we think about how much we use at work. Why is it, when we focus on the amount of water used to produce protein or food for human consumption, we conveniently neglect the elephant—or should I say the steer and the cow—in the room? Often a large volume of “embodied water” is associated with many items we use or consume on a daily basis. This is the amount of water used during the growing, transportation and processing of the goods and services we use or consume. However, what is clearly evident—and backed by numerous scientific studies and reports—is that it is animal products that impart huge strains on our water resources and in turn our water security.

    In Victoria animal agriculture is responsible for 51 per cent of the State’s water consumption. The dairy industry alone is responsible for 34 per cent of that consumption. The size and characteristics of the water footprint vary across animal types and production systems. Beef production, which Australia is known for, is by far one of the worst and one that I want to bring to the attention of members today. Per tonne of product, animal products generally have a larger water footprint than plant products. The same is true when we look at the water footprint per calorie. The average water footprint per calorie for beef is 20 times larger than for cereals and roots. For beef, the water footprint per gram of protein is six times larger than for pulses. From a freshwater resource perspective it is more efficient to obtain calories, protein and fat from plants rather than animal products.

    The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps: But it is not as tasty.

    The Hon. MARK PEARSON: As a global average vegetables use 320 litres per kilogram and 26 litres per gram of protein; fruits, 260 litres per kilogram and 180 litres per gram of protein; cereals, 1,645 litres per kilogram and 21 litres per gram of protein; beef, 15,415 litres per kilogram and 112 litres per gram of protein. How does Australia fare in relation to global averages? Professor Wayne Meyer of the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation [CSIRO], and Professor of Natural Resource Science at the University of Adelaide, cites as much as 50,000 to 100,000 litres of water per kilogram of beef. By comparison, he calculated it takes between 1,550 and 2,000 litres to produce a kilogram of rice. Yes, not as tasty perhaps, for some.

    There has been much discussion about whether a dry country such as Australia should be growing rice or other plant products and yet there is no public outcry about the heavy toll taken by supplying millions of litres of water to cattle for meat production. The CSIRO figures cannot be ignored. I cite some comparative water usage figures from Professor Meyer: beef, 50,000 to 100,000 litres per kilogram; rice, 2,385 litres per kilogram; and wheat, 110 litres per kilogram. This is an important matter because it is about looking after our agriculture, agribusiness, and providing food and nourishment for our children and their children in the world. Moving towards a plant-based diet can save households 35 per cent of their total water usage. Moving towards a plant-based diet means the grain that is grown and transported to feed the billions of cattle that are kept in feedlots could be used to save the starving people in this world. We will not save them and we may not save our own children’s children if we do not.

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