The projected increase in the production and consumption of animal products is likely to put further pressure on the globe’s freshwater resources. The size and characteristics of the water footprint vary across animal types and production systems.

The water footprint of meat from beef cattle (15400 m3/ton as a global average) is much larger than the footprints of meat from sheep (10400 m3/ton), pig (6000 m3/ton), goat (5500 m3/ton) or chicken (4300 m3/ton). The global average water footprint of chicken egg is 3300 m3/ton, while the water footprint of cow milk amounts to 1000 m3/ton (Mekonnen and Hoekstra, 2010).

Per ton of product, animal products generally have a larger water footprint than crop products. The same is true when we look at the water footprint per calorie. The average water footprint per calorie for beef is twenty times larger than for cereals and starchy roots. When we look at the water requirements for protein, it has been found that the water footprint per gram of protein for milk, eggs and chicken meat is about 1.5 times larger than for pulses. For beef, the water footprint per gram of protein is 6 times larger than for pulses. In the case of fat, butter has a relatively small water footprint per gram of fat, even lower than for oil crops. All other animal products, however, have larger water footprints per gram of fat when compared to oil crops. From a freshwater resource perspective, it is more efficient to obtain calories, protein and fat through crop products than animal products.

The water footprint of some selected food products from vegetable and animal origin.

litre/kg litre/kcal litre/gram protein litre/gram fat
Sugar crops 197 0.69 0.0 0.0
Vegetables 322 1.34 26 154
Starchy roots 387 0.47 31 226
Fruits 962 2.09 180 348
Cereals 1644 0.51 21 112
Oil crops 2364 0.81 16 11
Pulses 4055 1.19 19 180
Nuts 9063 3.63 139 47
Milk 1020 1.82 31 33
Eggs 3265 2.29 29 33
Chicken meat 4325 3.00 34 43
Butter 5553 0.72 0.0 6.4
Pig meat 5988 2.15 57 23
Sheep/goat meat 8763 4.25 63 54
Bovine meat 15415 10.19 112 153

Source: Mekonnen and Hoekstra (2010)

Global animal production requires about 2422 Gm3 of water per year (87.2% green, 6.2% blue, 6.6% grey water). One third of this volume is for the beef cattle sector; another 19% for the dairy cattle sector. Most of the total volume of water (98%) refers to the water footprint of the feed for the animals. Drinking water for the animals, service water and feed mixing water account only for 1.1%, 0.8% and 0.03%, respectively (Mekonnen and Hoekstra, 2010).

Publications

2013
Gerbens-Leenes, P.W., Mekonnen, M.M. and Hoekstra, A.Y. (2013) The water footprint of poultry, pork and beef: A comparative study in different countries and production systems, Water Resources and Industry, 1-2: 25-36.
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0.5 MB
2012
Hoekstra, A.Y. (2012) The hidden water resource use behind meat and dairy, Animal Frontiers, 2(2): 3-8.
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1.5 MB
2012
Mekonnen, M.M. and Hoekstra, A.Y. (2012) A global assessment of the water footprint of farm animal products, Ecosystems, doi: 10.1007/s10021-011-9517-8.
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0.5 MB
2011
Gerbens-Leenes, P.W., Mekonnen, M.M. and Hoekstra, A.Y. (2011) A comparative study on the water footprint of poultry, pork and beef in different countries and production systems, Value of Water Research Report Series No. 55, UNESCO-IHE.
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0.4 MB
2011
Hoekstra, A.Y. (2011) Understanding the water footprint of factory farming, Farm Animal Voice, 180: 14-15.
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1.2 MB
2011
Ercin, A.E., Aldaya, M.M. and Hoekstra, A.Y. (2011) The water footprint of soy milk and soy burger and equivalent animal products, Value of Water Research Report Series No.49, UNESCO-IHE.
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0.3 MB
2010
Mekonnen, M.M. and Hoekstra, A.Y. (2010) The green, blue and grey water footprint of farm animals and animal products, Value of Water Research Report Series No.48, UNESCO-IHE.
Main Report
Volume 1
download report 48 volume I
0.5 MB
Appendices
Volume 2
download report 48 volume II
4.1 MB
2010
Hoekstra, A.Y. (2010) The water footprint of animal products, In: D'Silva, J. and Webster, J. (eds.) The meat crisis: Developing more sustainable production and consumption, Earthscan, London, UK, pp. 22-33.
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3.3 MB
2007
Galloway, J.N., et al. (2007) International trade in meat: The tip of the pork chop, Ambio 36(8): 622-629.
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0.47 MB
2003
Chapagain, A.K. and Hoekstra, A.Y. (2003) ‘Virtual water flows between nations in relation to trade in livestock and livestock products’ ,Value of Water Research Report Series No.13, UNESCO-IHE.
download report 13
3.10 MB

 




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