Food’s Water Footprint
By Bernice Hurst, Managing Partner, Fine
Countless column inches have been written
recently about present and potential global water shortages. What has not
always been spelled out is that some of the problems are caused by the
water we use to produce our food.
One person looking closely at the ways in
which food production and consumption will impact on the availability of
water in the future is Professor Tim Lang of City University London. Talking
to the Daily Telegraph, Professor Lang said, "The threat to
Britain’s food chain from its water footprint is just as great as its carbon
footprint." He added that people need to be more aware of the way
farmers and food factories all use water to produce staples such as meat,
coffee and milk.
"Huge amounts of water are being used
as irrigation or fed directly to animals. It is a nightmare. Water stress
is huge across huge swathes of the globe. We think that we are liberally
supplied by God’s water. But that’s not true."
Sanjay Guha, president
of Coca Cola Great Britain, also admitted in the Independent on
Sunday: "Water is the most important ingredient in all our beverages.
It is essential for the production of sugar and other crops we rely on.
Without it, we simply don’t have a business."
Professor Lang, who is a senior government
food adviser, who was the first to use the term "food miles," is
currently working with a team at City University London on a system that
will help us formulate diets that are nutritious, ethical and sustainable.
This might include, for example, making it easy to see whether "a
Fair Trade banana from Costa Rica is as ‘sustainable’ as a lamb shank from
Wales, or a high-fat ready meal." In order to avoid what Professor
Lang described as the "almost unthinkable" options of rationing
and direct government intervention, he suggested supermarkets and government
encourage voluntary "editing"
of our diets.
Discussion questions: Is the food industry
doing enough to
address the growing problem of global water shortages? How should retailers
be responding, especially as consumer
awareness rises around the impact of food production methods?
[Author’s commentary] The Telegraph article
also points out that the World Wide Fund calculates one pint of milk uses
up more than 550 litres (968 pints) of water
(the equivalent of running six full baths) while one cup of coffee needs
140 litres (246 pints).
- Food rationing a possibility unless consumers cut back
on ‘water footprint’ – Telegraph
- Sanjay Guha: Why Coca-Cola’s
commitment to water sustainability is the ‘real thing’ – Independent