- The total water footprint of an animal product is generally larger when obtained from a grazing system than when produced from an industrial system, because of a larger green water footprint component [i.e. rain]. The blue and grey water footprints of animal products are largest for industrial systems (with an exception for chicken products). From a freshwater perspective, animal products from grazing systems are therefore to be preferred above products from industrial systems (Section 3.3).
- The water footprint of any animal product is larger than the water footprint of a wisely chosen crop product with equivalent nutritional value (Section 3.4).
- 29% of the total water footprint of the agricultural sector in the world is related to the production of animal products. One third of the global water footprint of animal production is related to beef cattle (Section 3.5)
In order to reduce the pressure on the world’s water resource associated with their consumption pattern, individuals have the option of shifting from a meat-rich to a vegetarian diet. The water footprint of an individual consumer depends to a large extent on the type of diet of the individual. Meat-based diets have a larger water footprint compared to a vegetarian diet. The average USA citizen consumes almost four times the amount of protein compared to the global average (FAO, 2009). About 63% of the daily protein intake comes from animal based products. This high level of consumption of animal-based products is directly reflected in the relative large water footprint of the average American citizen (Hoekstra and Chapagain, 2007). Replacing 50% of all animal products by an equivalent amount of high nutritious crop products such as pulses, groundnuts and potatoes will result [in] a 30% reduction of the food-related water footprint. A vegetarian diet compared with the average current per capita food intake in the USA can reduce the water footprint of an individual by as much as 58%.
The Green, Blue and Grey Water Footprint of Farm Animals and Animal Products.” M.M. Mekonnen and A.Y. Hoekstra. Institute for Water Education. University of Twente (The Netherlands). Dec. 2010. pp. 29.
[Text from image:]
One drop in the illustration = 50 liters of virtual water
The water footprint of a product (a commodity, good or service) is the volume of freshwater used to produce the product, measured at the place where the product was actually made. I refers to the amount of ater used in the various steps of the production chain.
Beef (grain-fed): 4650 L water for 1 steak (300 g)
Milk: 1000 L/L of milk
Cheese: 2500 L/lb (500 g)
Barley: 650 L/lb
Wheat: 650 L/lb
Sorghum: 1400 L/lb
Millet: 2500 L/lb
Tea: 90 L/pot (750 mL)
Coffee: 840 L/pot
Burger: 2500 L/burger (150 g beef)
Source of stats: WaterFootprint.org
You can buy the poster here: Virtual Water
*NOTE: Chocolate has an even higher water footprint than beef, at 24,000 L/kg (compared to beef’s 15,500 L/kg).
Chocolate: 24,000 liters/kilogram (L/kg)
Beef: 15,500 L/kg
Cheese: 5,000 L/kg
Pork: 4,800 L/kg
Olives: 4,400 L/kg
Chicken: 3,900 L/kg
Rice: 3,400 L/kg
Groundnuts (in shell): 3,100 L/kg
Sugar: 1,500 L/kg
Wheat Bread: 1,300 L/kg
Cow’s Milk: 250 L/glass
Cabbage: 200 L/kg
Coffee: 140 L/cup
Lettuce: 130 L/kg
Wine: 120 L/glass
Beer: 75 L/glass
Tea: 30 L/cup
Source: The Water Footprint of Food by Arjen Y. Hoekstra, University of Twente, the Netherlands. 2011.