While 70% of the earth’s surface is covered in water, only 3% is freshwater, and most of this freshwater is inaccessible, locked-up in glaciers and ice caps.
Water scarcity is a particular problem in certain regions and countries in the global south. There are nearly 4 billion people lacking access to water, or facing seasonal water scarcity and 2.7 billion without access to sanitation, putting them at risk of illness and diseases¹.
Food supply is also threatened as many agricultural regions don’t have sustainable water resources and face changing weather patterns caused by rising global temperatures.
Water must be treated as a scarce resource and, because 70% of the freshwater we use worldwide is for agriculture, what we eat makes a big difference².
There are some crops grown for human consumption which have a high water use and are grown in water-scarce areas; examples include almonds grown in California, and rice grown in Punjab, India. However, as with greenhouse gas emissions, the highest water footprint of any food product is ‘beef’. It uses six times more water than pulses² which are a central part of vegan diets. It’s estimated that a single beefburger takes 2400 litres of water to produce³.
Whether calculated by weight, calories, or grams of protein, animal products generally have a higher water footprint. Water is needed for the animals to drink as well as cleaning, sanitation and managing animal wastes. But the primary cause of water use in animal farming systems is the water needed to grow crops for animal feed. Because growing crops for animal feed is so inefficient, it takes a lot of plant material to produce a small amount of animal product. This ‘embedded’ water footprint is very high.
This is why a study from the University of Oxford in 2018 concluded that moving to diets which exclude animal products worldwide would reduce agriculture’s water use by 19%⁴. If you want to reduce your water footprint, why not start with the 7-day Plate Up for the Planet pledge?