When talking about water use, we are referring to the total amount of water taken from a source to be utilised for a particular purpose. 

Water scarcity, that is the lack of sufficient water or access to safe water, is a global issue. As many as 1.42 billion people live in areas with high or extremely high water vulnerability, and up to 4 billion people find water scarce for at least one month of the year [ref] [ref].

What has water use and scarcity got to do with the animals we raise for human consumption?

Raising animals for food and fibre requires a huge amount of water. From growing crops to feed the animals and the direct consumption by the animals, to the water required for cleaning processes, animal agriculture is an incredibly inefficient system when it comes to water use.

We may not even realise that our biggest individual consumption of water may be in the animal products we are using for food and fibre. 70% of global freshwater withdrawal is used for agriculture, of which a large portion is used for livestock feed and and production. This is despite animal-derived foods only accounting for 18% of the world’s total calories and 37% of protein.

Water required for growing animal feed

One of the most significant uses of water for animal agriculture is in growing food to feed to livestock. Crops such as soy and cereals require vast amounts of water to grow, only to be consumed by animals that are later eaten by humans. 

Upwards of 70.1 billion land animals are raised for human consumption each year (roughly 9 times the population of humans), which equates to a huge amount of feed needing to be produced. It would be far more efficient for humans to consume plant products directly, providing an opportunity to free up valuable water.

Other uses of water when raising animals for human consumption

  • Water consumed directly by approximately 70.1 billion land animals raised for human consumption each year.
  • Water needed for processing (slaughtering/ processing animals bodies)
  • Water needed for cleaning processes 

Let’s put this into perspective

There have been a number of studies that look at the water use for particular food products and the results are shocking.

To produce just one kilogram of beef it takes 15,000 litres of water; comparatively it takes between 500 and 4,000 litres to produce one kilogram of wheat.

Consuming just 200ml of cow’s milk every day for one year requires a whopping 45,733 litres of water to produce, whereas the same amount of oat milk only requires 3,512 litres of water to produce.

It is important we all recognise our individual and collective responsibility regarding water consumption in a world facing a water scarcity crisis. Water is a precious, finite resource; our use of it to feed and clothe ourselves should reflect that.