Eating less meat could save more water
The drought affecting Australian farmers has highlighted the importance of water for crops, but what is rarely discussed is the amount of water needed to produce meat products. Switching to a vegetarian or pescetarian diet could reduce a country’s water footprint by up to half, a European study has found.
Davy Vanham and colleagues from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in Italy said changes along the whole product supply chain, including dietary behaviour, are necessary to achieve global food and water security.
They compared the amount of water required to produce the food consumed in almost 44,000 geographical entities in Germany, France and the UK. They found the daily water footprint from food consumption per person is: 2757 L in the UK, 2929 L in Germany and 3861 L in France. While there were regional and socioeconomic differences, people in all three countries tended to eat too much red meat, sugar and fat, and not enough fruits and vegetables.
Swapping meat, oils and fats, which require a lot of water to produce, for fruits and vegetables is better for your health and the environment. Following a healthy pescetarian and vegetarian diet would see the biggest reduction (33–55%), but switching to a healthy meat diet would still decrease the water footprint by 11–35%.
The researchers suggested the results could be used “at different governance levels in order to inform policies targeted to specific geographical entities”.
The research was published in Nature Sustainability.
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