Drought-Stricken California Water Contributes to US Dairy Cheese “Surplus”

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More of drought-stricken California’s water is used for producing dairy products than any other activity in the state. Now, it has come to light that much of that dairy cheese is unwanted and sitting in a massive “surplus” in “private inventories.” 

Further, via a $20 million dollar dairy industry bailout, the US government will be pushing 11 million pounds of this unwanted supply on those who have the least autonomy over their food choices. As noted by Vegan Street, the blocks of congealed bovine lactation are going "to those in nutrition assistance programs, the majority of whom are African-American and Latino, populations with a high incidence of lactose intolerance. Instead of filling food banks with food that is nourishing and digestible, animal ag gets bailed out once again and taxpayers are footing the bill." 

Dairy cheese is produced by exploiting the reproductive system of fertile female bovines, and healthier and more efficient alternatives exist. Says Neil Bernard, MD, of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, "You may have heard that the US government is planning to buy up $20 million of unwanted cheese and send it into schools and food assistance programs. The idea is to boost dairy industry income. But cheese is 70% fat, and it's one of the highest sodium, highest cholesterol foods." In a satirical Facebook video, he suggests the stuff would be better used as pothole filler.

Unbelievably, this animal agriculture bailout for dairy is in addition to the large amount already subsidized by American taxpayers. Research conducted by attorney and author David Robinson Simon estimates that the amount US taxpayers spend yearly to subsidize meat and dairy is $38 billion, but only $17 million to subsidize fruits and vegetables. This wildly disproportionate subsidization keeps prices artificially cheap for products of an extremely resource-intensive and cruel process, ensuring the slaughterhouses remain full and unceasing. Talk about "forcing beliefs."

Thirsty Cows Come From California

Many people still don’t realize that the largest portion of water used in California, now in its fifth year of severe drought, goes to the almost surreal purpose of growing alfalfa hay to feed thousands of very hungry cows in order to take their milk. Charts released by Pacific Institute and the Department of Land, Air, and Water Resources/UC Davis confirm this.

 to produce, this makes dairy cheese, along with dairy Greek yogurt and dairy butter, California’s largest water guzzlers by leaps and bounds.

Additionally, 2.7 trillion gallons of water are effectively exported from California every year in the form of alfalfa hay for large dairy farms in the Middle East, who have already drained their own aquifers for this extravagantly wasteful purpose.

It is unknown what portion of the US surplus originated from California, but given that as the nation’s “top” dairy state it produces more than a fifth of all US dairy products, it can be assumed to be a considerable amount.

California’s Central Valley Aquifer, the most troubled in the US per NASA, is being drained mostly by dairy . 70% of California’s alfalfa is grown in the Central Valley, and almost all is irrigated, causing the ground to sink at a rate never before seen and damaging infrastructure. Not coincidentally, the area is also the second worse methane (a potent greenhouse gas emitted by ruminants) "hotspot" in the nation.

Although the target of an effective smear campaign, almonds actually use far less water for astronomically higher yields and greater nutritional value. Additionally, they are not sitting in an unwanted surplus to our knowledge.

Meanwhile, long falsely positioned as an essential source of nutrients while plant sources of those same nutrients are invalidated, dairy largely escapes collective scrutiny and the media’s “drought-shaming.” The public remains unable or unwilling to connect the dots.

Not clear on why dairy is such a wildly extravagant use of water? The industry itself says cows rigged for constant lactation (“dairy cows”), who each weigh upwards of a ton, typically consume 30-50 gallons of drinking water and 100 pounds of (often irrigated) feed in a single day just to secrete 6 to 7 gallons of milk

Even if numbers vary amongst individual operations, the input always far exceeds the output. Due to trophic levels, as with all animal meat and products, only a small fraction of the energy from the crops farmed animals consume comes out the other end as milk or eggs, and even less for meat. So dairy cows must eat lots and lots of irrigated alfalfa (and drink more water than any other land mammal on Earth per unit pound of body weight – including rhinos, elephants and hippos!) in order for people to squeeze out a comparably small amount of their lactation, for which we have no nutritional requirement whatsoever.

Additionally, cows lactate for the calves they continually birth, typically due to forced insemination and only for them to be removed within hours. Each calf is typically given milk replacers or restricted from nursing so people can take mom’s milk. If male, he is slaughtered for veal or beef, and if female she will be continually impregnated and milked herself as soon as she is fertile – and then ground into beef after having 4-7 calves in about as many years. This occurs even on small, organic, and/or family farms. Again, the dairy industry admits but certainly doesn't advertise any of this.

Composition of mother's milk is, of course, species-specific. Human consumption of bovine lactation products is a form of interspecific kleptoparasitism.

Although people have been led to believe milk products need to come from cows, one of the Mirriam-Webster definitions of milk is “a white liquid produced by a plant.” Accordingly, plant-based milks have been consumed for thousands of years and are now exploding on the market along with all the products thought of as “dairy” products, including cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and more. Food and Wine Magazine has called 2016 the Year to Surrender to Vegan Cheese and Ben and Jerry's has come out with vegan flavors. These delicious alternatives are a much more efficient use of water, resources, and, of course, lives.

In fact, 47% of California's water footprint is associated with meat (includes eggs) and dairy. Governor Jerry Brown has acknowledged this public disconnect, stating, "If you ask me, I think you should be eating veggie burgers." Overall, more than half of all consumed freshwater in the US is squandered this way, mostly on growing livestock feed. From sea to shining sea, the use of water to grow livestock feed is the number one cause of groundwater overdraft, including iconic rivers and ancient aquifers (including the Midwest’s Ogalalla). Again, there are more efficient and widely available plant-based versions of all these products. We just have to choose them.

In a leaked document earlier this year, it was discovered that Nestle executives warned U.S. officials that the world is on a "catastrophic" path to run out of freshwater due to meat consumption. Accordingly, Newsweek specifiesmeat consumption as a leading factor driving the global water crisis that has already destabilized the Middle East, sparked civil wars in Syria and Yemen, and is now spreading to the US, which "could spark unrest across the world, and dire consequences." This aligns with warnings from Water Footprint Network founder Arjen Y. Hoekstra, PhD, who is creator of the water footprint concept, has had multiple publications translated into several languages, and has advised government and multilateral institutions like UNESCO and World Bank. He says: "Animal products are the single most important factor in humanity's water footprint" and "we need to re-examine the place meat and dairy have in the diet of modern man." 

One by one, people are awakening to the cruel and wasteful absurdity of animal use. A vegan diet saves 600 gallons of water per day on average, which is less than half the water required to produce the typical American diet, and "Going Vegan" won World Water Week 2015 Best Water Ideas Campaign. World-renowned water scientists agree and say the shift must come soon. World Bank Vice President Dr. Ismael Serageldin stated in 1995, "The wars of the next century will be fought over water." Please make the connection and join the rapidly growing global vegan revolution today – for people, planet, and animals.

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