India is currently undergoing a severe water crisis and simple things like the food we eat can exacerbate the problem. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations predicts that animal agriculture will increase by approximately 70% by 2050, with most of that growth taking place in emerging economies like India. Much of this growth will involve the expansion of factory farms, which confine large numbers of animals in a small area. For example, in India, it is common to see tens of thousands of hens packed together in row upon row of cages inside a single shed, without enough space to freely stretch their wings. These animals suffer immense physical and psychological stress due to such extreme confinement. The unsanitary conditions that prevail at these facilities also pose severe risks to human handlers. And they also pose a significant threat to the environment.
As India is currently reeling from a severe water crisis, we need to question our growing demand for meat and dairy products.
Factory farms play a significant role in depleting and polluting water resources. As India is currently reeling from a severe water crisis, we need to question our growing demand for meat and dairy products. A report, "The Impact of Diet on Water" by Humane Society International, presents research which shows that it takes 1.5 times more water to produce a gram of protein from milk or eggs compared to a gram of protein from pulses. Meat is shown to consume even more water. While it has been alleged that the sugar industry in Maharashtra has exacerbated the state's current water crisis, it is worth noting that as per the report, it takes almost 2.5 times more water to produce a calorie of food from chicken than from sugar. The HSI report also highlights the role of dairy production in water stress. A 2004 study, "Virtual Water Trade in Dairy Economy: Irrigation Water Productivity in Gujarat", reveals that the growth of the dairy sector has necessitated an increase in growth of crops for cattle feed, increasing pressure on water resources. In North Gujarat, for example, it takes 2941 litres of water to produce one litre of cow's milk. The water footprint for buffaloes is nearly twice that number! What makes this data all the more relevant is that the states most affected by the drought also rank among India's leading producers of meat, eggs and dairy.
[T]he states most affected by the drought also rank among India's leading producers of meat, eggs and dairy.
Not only does animal agriculture consume unsustainable amounts of water, it also can pollute a region's water supply. But animal agriculture doesn't have to be our proverbial white elephant. According to a 2012 study, vegetarian diets dramatically reduce the pressure on our water resources. By choosing more plant-based foods, we can reduce our impact on the environment and help animals.
HSI advocates for compassionate eating, or the Three Rs: "reducing" our consumption of animal products, "replacing" it with healthy plant-based foods, and "refining" our diets by choosing products from sources that adhere to higher animal welfare standards. Our Humane Eating Outreach Programme also includes the "Go-veg pledge" through which we hope to foster a more sustainable and humane society. With World Earth Day on 22 April, it's something to chew on.
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