A Global Assessment of the Water Footprint of Farm Animal Products

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

The increase in the consumption of animal products is likely to put further pressure on the world’s freshwater resources. This paper provides a comprehensive account of the water footprint of animal products, considering different production systems and feed composition per animal type and country. Nearly one-third of the total water footprint of agriculture in the world is related to the production of animal products. The water footprint of any animal product is larger than the water footprint of crop products with equivalent nutritional value. The average water footprint per calorie for beef is 20 times larger than for cereals and starchy roots. The water footprint per gram of protein for milk, eggs and chicken meat is 1.5 times larger than for pulses. The unfavorable feed conversion efficiency for animal products is largely responsible for the relatively large water footprint of animal products compared to the crop products. Animal products

from industrial systems generally consume and pollute more ground- and surface-water resources than animal products from grazing or mixed systems. The rising global meat consumption and the intensification of animal production systems will put further pressure on the global freshwater resources in the coming decades. The study shows that from a freshwater perspective, animal products from grazing systems have a smaller blue and grey water footprint than products from industrial systems, and that it is more water-efficient to obtain calories, protein and fat through crop products than animal products.

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