A meat-based diet is known to be damaging to the environment, and its excessive water footprint is now also a major concern. By contrast, a vegan diet uses five times less water than a meat-based diet, a study by the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC) has found.
The JRC is the European Commission’s science and knowledge service conducting research in order to provide independent scientific advice to EU policy. Its latest study, published in “Nature Sustainably,” focused on France, the UK, and Germany. Using socio-economic data, national food surveys, and international food consumption and water footprint databases, the study is the most detailed nationwide food consumption-related water footprint to date. It explored geographical differences in water footprint values for existing diets (i.e., the total volume of freshwater used to produce goods), as well as for the reduction in water footprints associated with a change to the recommended healthy diets.
Comparing a diet containing meat, a pescatarian diet, and a vegetarian diet, the study found that for all 43,786 geographical entities analysed, a meat-free diet produces the smallest water footprint. Whereas the water required to produce our food could be reduced by between 11 percent and 35 percent for meat-based diets, the results showed that it was reduced by 33 to 55 percent for pescetarian and vegetarian diets. It summarised that opting for a meat-free diet is not only beneficial to health but also substantially reduces the dissipation of water resources consistently for all geographical entities.
The JRC’s findings add to the growing body of scientific evidence showing that a plant-based diet is the most sustainable way to eat. Earlier this year, even the meat publication Global Meat News admitted that animal agriculture is to blame for a third of the global water footprint.
The study also notes the issue of animal-product overconsumption. Backing this, recent findings revealed that we would need five planets if the rest of the world ate as much meat as the U.S. The European diet is likewise characterised by overconsumption and therefore the JRC makes recommendations for a healthier, more sustainable diet. This, it claims, entails less meat and animal fats, a reduced intake of sugar and crop oils, and more vegetables and fruit.
The study advises “Change your diet to save both water and your health.”
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