Wasting water

Wasting Water
26/03/2012

A study to understand the water footprint of livestock farming. The aim was to assess whether a range of farming systems, with differing animal welfare, use water differently.

Download: Freshwater Use And Farm Animal Welfare 4 Page | Size (6.78MB)

It’s not an obvious link to make – farm animal welfare and the exploitation of our waning water supplies. However, the water footprint of factory farmed animals, in particular of pigs and cows, is not only large but extremely wasteful.

Working together for animals

Compassion in World Farming, with support from the Tubney Charitable Trust and the World Society for the Protection of Animals commissioned a new study to understand the water footprint of livestock farming. The aim was to assess whether a range of farming systems, with differing animal welfare, use water differently.

Key findings

The research shows that meat production is very water intensive:

  • One quarter of the global freshwater used worldwide relates to meat and dairy production
  • 43 times more irrigation water is used for grain-based animal feeds than pasture-based animal feeds
  • A reduction in meat consumption and food waste would reduce the water impact of our diet

Our analysis

Importantly, this new research shows us that current information on water use in livestock farming might be too simplified for decision makers to make sound decisions about water management.

Claims that factory farming is more efficient in water use can now be seen as flawed. This is because the total amount of water used to produce meats can be of less importance to water conservation than the type of water used and where the water came from.

Policy recommendations

We believe that with the right shifts in policy, not only would animal welfare be improved, but our use of water would be largely reduced:

  • The expansion of industrial grain-fed animal production systems should be reversed
  • Policies and subsidies should support humane sustainable food security and not factory farming
  • Measures that reduce food waste and the over-consumption of meat are necessary

“Raising farm animals outside on grass that is watered by rainfall is a better way to manage our water supplies than industrial farming. Factory farming uses up far too much water and we simply cannot afford to squander this precious resource, especially in the face of water shortages.”

Philip Lymbery,CEO of Compassion in World Farming

More information

To find out more about the water footprints of factory farmed animals, and the animal welfare issues and sustainability issues involved, please select from the reports below.


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