Every food item we eat needs water for its production, but different foods require different amount of water. What do you think consumes more water: a steak, a glass of milk, a piece of bread or a cucumber? The short answer to this question is that the steak is the biggest water consumer. However, this answer is not enough, it is much more complex than it seems and requires that we understand more of the complexity behind water use in agricultural production.
Regardless of whether you think livestock products is a key ingredient of your every meal or not, it is an important part of human diets globally, especially in low-income countries. 1 billion people in these countries depend on livestock, and it has a significant value for battling malnutrition in many places around the world.
It has already been well established that large scale livestock production systems are very land and water demanding, they are large emitters of methane gas and, when managed badly, pose a threat to water quality and biodiversity. Meanwhile, consumption of livestock products is continuously increasing and the production is expected to double by 2050.
Over-consumption of animal-sourced products has been linked to certain non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and high blood pressure. It’s likely that reduced animal-sourced food intake could result in lower environmental impact and in better health for some people. However, stopping consumption of animal sourced products is not the solution to environmental and health problems linked to its consumption.
Eating steak, cheese or having milk with your cereal is a personal choice and it should remain so. The question is can resources across livestock supply chains be managed more effectively? Should we feed grains suitable for human food to animals? Can we make a better use of animal’s ability to produce nutrient rich food from non-edible grasses, plant residues and waste?