Rise in ‘quality’ meat could reduce agricultural water usage

The farming sector has welcomed a report which links the high consumption of meat to global water scarcity and urges the public to place a greater value on their intake.

Published by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Food Ethics Council, the report claims that high meat consumption is associated with a number of factors including climate change, obesity, water scarcity, land use change, global poverty and inequality.

According to the report, reducing meat consumption could potentially be beneficial for people’s health, the environment, and for producers and consumers.

As well as impacting on water quality, livestock production has a significant effect on water usage. Globally, large amounts of water are required for consumption by animals and for irrigating feed crops.

Service water is also required in farming operations, while slaughter operations use significant amounts of water in washing and rinsing.

The organisation for beef and lamb levy payers in England, EBLEX, sector director Nick Allen said that the report’s focus on a solution to increase the quality of meat was wise.

“It is encouraging to see a considered approach to these issues rather than the usual “meat is bad, so eat less” message,” he said.

“This report is all about opening a debate on what is “better” meat, and that is a positive thing. All too often it can appear that meat produced is not valued by the consumer or, in some instances, the retailer.”

However, Britain’s meat consumption is not impacting water resources on a large scale because of the large amount of heavy rainfall. Allen insisted that the UK was well suited to red meat farming.

“[The report] continues to look at things in a global context rather than acknowledging that while producing red meat may be an inefficient use of natural resources in some regions of the world, in others it is a cost-effective, environmentally responsible way of producing food,” he said.

WWF-UK head of corporate stewardship, food and water Mark Driscoll said society needed to value the food it consumed. This could ultimately mean paying more to reflect the true social and environmental costs, whilst rewarding producers for looking after the environment.

Driscoll said: “We know there are good reasons for reducing our meat consumption in the West – it’s better for the environment and for health, and we eat far more than our fair share.

“However a simple ‘less meat’ message could have unintended consequences for farmers’ livelihoods, rural communities and landscapes and runs the risk of alienating consumers who want to eat meat. Some have suggested ‘less but better’ meat could be the answer, but no-one has really looked into what this means”.

Conor McGlone

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