It’s raining and has been for days! The river outside our cottage is running again having reduced to a trickle. At the same time, on television last night, there was much talk of drought in England. Fears of drought, hand-in-hand with persistent rain, has served to highlight in this part of the world just how precious water is; and how scarce it’s becoming.
Every time we turn on a tap, we take for granted access to fresh, clean water. For much of the time, many of us barely give it a moment’s thought. What is also less well known is how much water is used in the making of our food; and how our food choices can affect the amount of our water use.
At Compassion, we’ve been giving much thought to water recently and we’ve been working with our friends at the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) on a new initiative looking at water use in food production. A startling fact is that a quarter of all the freshwater used globally relates to meat and dairy production. How animals are raised has a big effect on the amount of water needed. For example, grain feeds for animals use 43 times more irrigation water than pasture-based animal feeds. It’s just another factor that underlines the benefit of moving away from industrial farming, instead putting animals back on the farm and out in our pastures.
We commissioned research by leading Professor Arjen Y. Hoekstra from the University of Twente, in The Netherlands. Professor Hoesktra has also calculated that 15,500 litres of water are needed to produce one kilogram of beef. That’s equivalent to about 90 bathtubs of water! And it’s about 12 times the quantity needed for a kg of wheat.
If animals are raised on grass, then the water use is largely rainfall on grass. Reared intensively in confinement and fed grain, then the water use is much more likely to be drawing on rivers and aquifers; in other words, diverting water away from other human uses and adding to the overall burden on hard-pressed water courses.
The worrying prediction is that in little more than a decade, about two out of every three people in the world could be living in areas of water shortage. It underlines the need to take saving water seriously. Be it in our homes or in our food. It is just another reason to avoid the products of industrial animal agriculture.
Our new report, Freshwater Use and Farm Animal Welfare, makes recommendations for more effective use of water in food production. These include implementing humane-sustainable farming policies, and supporting farmers who use and develop better practices.
The size of our water ‘footprint’ is more than just whether we use hosepipes in a drought. It also relates to our food choices too.