Why was beef banned in India? The Real Reason


“Most believe that the Prime Minister supported ban on Beef due to religious reasons. Pity that none understood his real motive”

My Professor friend said this, lit his cigar and took a deep puff. We were sitting in his verandah enjoying the drizzle of the rain.

I said “Indeed, the reasons were religious. We have been worshiping cows for centuries in India and the cattle are the pillars of our agro-economy”

The Professor smiled.

“The real reason for banning beef was to protect India and the World from the water stress. Actually it was my idea”

I was surprised. I knew that Professor was SA (Secret Advisor) to PM – but then what was the connection?

“Do you know that 1 kg of beef requires an average 13,620 liters (13.62 m3) of water?

India produces nearly 5 million metric tons of beef annually. This means that producing beef in India amounts to annual consumption of 70 billion m3 of water!!”

“On an average an Indian consumes 100 liters of water on a daily basis. So one billion people of India would need 30 billion m3 of water over a year for household consumption. Water consumed for production of beef is thus two times of water consumed by the Indian households (covering both urban and rural).

Today, fifty percent of the beef produced is exported and so if consumption of beef is banned in India then we could save at least half or 30 billion m3 of India’s precious water resource – an amount comparable to annual national domestic water consumption! See the great impact of banning beef. This will help India to save water, improve on our dwindling ground water resources and meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and in specific Goal No 6.

I realized that the Prime Minister had a much deeper thought on India’s water sustainability – and an impression that he discouraged domestic consumption of beef on religious grounds was simply not true.

The Professor continued. “All these ideas essentially flow from the concept of “virtual water”, originated in Europe. In this concept we are talking about Embedded Water

Embedded water is water used to produce food and non-food products. Beer, burgers, clothing, our cars and homes, and even electricity all have water embedded in them.

About 65 percent of the water that we consume is in our food. A tomato has 13 liters of water embedded in it; an apple has about 70 liters; a pint of beer about 170 liters; a glass of milk about 200 liters; and a hamburger about 2400 liters. It takes about 136 drops of water to produce one drop of tea, and about 1100 drops of water to produce one drop of coffee!

If present levels of consumption continue, two-thirds of the global population will live in areas of water stress by 2025. Increasing human demand for water coupled with the effects of climate change mean that the future of our water supply is not secure.

“Did you know that each Briton uses about 150 liters of tap water a day, but if you include the amount of water embedded within products then water consumption is around 3400 liters every day? An amount 20 times of what water we “see” Professor said

“I am now working on similar Indian statistics. It’s a complex task as Brits eat only Fish and Chips while Indians eat a variety of food items like Idli-dosa, Nan and Panneer and Chiken Biryani. I have commissioned five top IITs to work on this problem. We will soon come up with the true per capita water consumption for a North Indian and South Indian to begin with.

Much of the embedded water that we consume, about 70% of our water footprint, comes from other nations, as we import goods and services into our country. I am revising therefore India’s export of goods policy. Some items will be banned and on some items that have large water footprints will attract higher export duties. I have already drafted a note for Indian Commerce Minister to present in the next WTO meeting”

It’s a great revelation Professor. Are you providing any more advice, especially to the State Governments apart from the Government of India? I asked

“Well, I have been in discussion with various leaders of Indian States. In Maharashtra State for instance, if you ask for a fruit salad, you will not get to see a piece of apple. Selling apple or eating apple in Maharashtra is now banned as one apple has embedded water of 70 liters. Maharashtra is really a progressive State when it comes to banning. The College of Catering in Mumbai is now coming up with LEW (Low Embedded Water) Recipes to teach the students. That is the food for the thought”

That’s very impressive, Professor I said. I decided not to order fruit salad in Mumbai restaurants anymore.

Professor continued

“One liter of wine or beer requires 900 to 1000 liters of water. When I released this data to the Chief Ministers, some of the drought prone States decided to take action and consider banning of liquor in their States on the grounds of Water Sustainability. Government of Gujarat is now issuing new justification saying how over the past several years they have contributed to water sustainability by banning consumption of liquor in the State”

“The concept is hitting the private sector as well. Hamburgers have a very high embedded water. All outlets of McDonald’s will therefore need a water resource clearance (this is a new instrument of the Ministry of Water Resources). Each McDonald outlet in India will now require to install a rainwater harvesting unit as a gesture to compensate the water consumed in making of the hamburger. This step is forcing McDonald to set up outlet only at places where it rains”

“Wow” I realized that Professor was set to bring in a quantum change with the concept of virtual water. Banning the beef was only the beginning.

I returned home. The News hour show on Times Now channel was on. Arnab Goswami was speaking as the anchor of Super Primetime. “

“Breaking news – Delhi Government is taking now far bolder steps on water. The Government is asking the Delhiets to consume as much water as they want – with no restrictions – and all for free. The Government has realized that the virtual water consumption of Delhi is nearly 10 times of the real so why focus on conserving water at the households and charge people for water use. Let the water be used in abundance and for free.

The only condition will be that chocolates won’t be available in Delhi anymore as 1 kg of chocolate requires 24,000 liters of water. Anyone found eating or storing chocolates in Delhi will be punished.  Chocolates will also be not available at the Duty Free shops. The Delhi Government feels that this radical step will certainly help them win the next election and align at the same time with the national water conservation strategy. Some believe that this move may also help (incidentally) in reducing extent of obesity and incidence of diabetes of the Delhiets”

Clearly this step must have been an outcome of the meeting with my Professor friend. I realized.

Arnab Goswami was ending the show– He said in his usual high pitch voice “Nation wants to know – why?”

I decided to call the Professor right away, and ask him to come online to explain the concept of embedded water to the Nation

Cover image sourced from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/entertainment/hindi/bollywood/Beef-ban-Bollywood-reacts-on-Twitter/photostory/46453554.cms

­­­­­­­­Interesting links to follow

A nifty infographic at National Geographic, showing ‘How Much H2O is Embedded in Everyday Life’.






  1. Fantastic as usual! Even the “food for thought” seems to have a “high embedded water” requirement. So, no more thinking please!!

  2. This was really interesting and also knowledgeable . This throws the light from an another aspect, from where, most people do not see. Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

  3. Sir, This article is very thoughtful and interesting. However I’m very excited to see how this multi faced Indian society is going receive this move.
    Also, I think the scientific community should take the responsibility of spreading this ideology in a positive way.

  4. What a strange argument — We don’t produce beef.. We sent the cattle which is nearing its natural death to slaughter houses.. How many cattle are reared just for beef? In my knowledge hardly any… If the cattle are dying naturally where would u account that water consumption ?

    1. Of course we produce beef, consume as well as export. You forgot the bullocks! See http://time.com/3833931/india-beef-exports-rise-ban-buffalo-meat/ this link will provide you the details

      But this post was not to discuss ban on beef at all. It was to introduce the concept of embedded or virtual water and point out that we consume substantial quantities of water in making our products, especially food. The definition of per capita water consumption needs to factor the embedded water.

  5. It is not just water consumption alone. It is not the most cost effective food, because of the huge consumption of cattle feed to generate beef.

  6. According to the above logic, would the government soon ban butter, cheese and milk too? They are also very water intensive. 1 kg of butter consumes almost one third the amount of water required for 1 kg of beef.

    Source – http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/jan/10/how-much-water-food-production-waste

    A minimum assumption would be that for every kg of beef produced in India, at least 5 kgs of butter is produced.

    That would make butter, milk and cheese a much bigger problem for sustainability.

    Correct me if I am wrong. I just couldn’t resist asking the question.

    1. Well, the idea of the blog was to introduce the concept of embedded or virtual water and not to suggest any specific banning. We should use this information for understanding water related implications of products we make and consume. If choices are to be made of products on the count of water consumption then we should know how to.

  7. Great Satire, Sir!
    On a lighter note, why not consume and get rid of it once and for all. so na rahega bans. ..na bajegi bansuri. We never eat it, we recycle it in most environment friendly matter (using the biological digesters-stomach).

  8. Dear Sir,

    By far, this is one of the best satirical post that I have come across..
    Understanding of water related implications of products has never been this easier.

    A Reader

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