Meat, Dairy and Rice

When it comes to saving water, showering with a bucket or using grey water on the garden are little more than token “feel good” gestures.

Studies by authoritative bodies such as Sydney University, CSIRO and the Australian Conservation Foundation suggest that 15,000 – 50,000 litres of water are needed for animal feed and meat processing to produce just 1 kg of beef, depending on where and how the livestock is reared.

Statistics suggest that the dairy industry may consume similar, or even greater, quantities of water. If Australians were to considerably reduce their consumption of meat and dairy products, the water saved could be directed to human use, and domestic water restrictions could become a distant memory.

Using the above statistics, a conservative estimate would be that about 25,000 litres of water are needed to produce just 1 kg of beef. If an average family of four consumes, say, 2 kg of beef per week between them (including sausages and hamburgers), their annual consumption would be around 104 kg, requiring 2.5 million litres of water to produce. If they just halved their consumption of beef, they would save 1.3 million litres of water each year – that’s equivalent to about 26,000 five-minute showers or leaving the backyard tap running continuously for 45 days!

Moreover, a saving of 1.3 million litres equates to about five times the amount of water used annually by this family of four for all domestic purposes. Worth thinking about if we’re really serious about saving water.


Riverina rice farms use 2,000 GL a year, more than all Australian capital cities combined. Canberra’s use of 30 GL would equal that of one large rice farm.
Professor Peter Collignon, ANU medical school

To produce one kilogram of rice, 21,000 litres of water is used.

A new CSIRO study found that of 135 industries analysed, rice was financially, environmentally and socially one of the nation’s costliest crops.

Australia’s 2,500 rice farms were found to be 200 times more water intensive than the average industry and to generate four times more greenhouse gases.

A 1kg bag of rice costing $2.50 required 21,000 litres of water to produce and generated six and a half minutes of employment.

By comparison, a $2.50 bottle of beer needed 122 litres of water and provided three minutes of employment.

Barley Charlie!

Respected CSIRO scientist Peter Cullen said if water was charged at a true cost, 1kg of rice would cost about $21 in water alone.

Half the water in Australia is used for growing grass to feed cows and produces an even smaller return than rice. So eating beef stir-fry is a staggeringly costly meal on our environment.

The nation’s rice growers produce an average crop of 1.3million tonnes a year worth more than $800 million, with 85 per cent of this exported.

Ever tried barley risotto?


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