For #WorldWaterDay this Friday, Humane Society International/Africa is urging South Africans to Eat Green to help combat the significant contribution to water scarcity across Africa and the world from eating too much meat. Water security is one of the biggest challenges facing the world, and with South Africa facing one of the worst droughts to hit the region in decades, World Water Day is the ideal opportunity to tackle one of the biggest causes of water usage – meat, dairy and egg production.
Globally 2.1 billion people live without safe water and around 4 billion people – nearly two-thirds of the world’s population – experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year. According to the United Nations, 700 million people worldwide could be displaced by intense water scarcity by 2030.
With more than 83 billion animals reared and slaughtered globally for the food industry every year, industrial scale animal agriculture impacts our environment in enormously detrimental ways. It is not only one of the leading contributors to climate change and deforestation, but it also uses vast quantities of water. Research shows that switching to plant-forward diets could cut our water footprint in half, so by changing our diet to reduce or replace meat, dairy and eggs with more water-friendly plant-based alternatives, we can all help to preserve the world’s water.
The Top 8 Reasons to Eat Green for World Water Day
- Farming (animal and plant) accounts for about 70 percent of water used in the world today, up to 92 percent of freshwater, with nearly one-third of that related to animal farming and growing crops to feed to animals.
- Most of the total volume of water used for animal agriculture (98 percent) refers to the water footprint of the feed for the animals. About one-third of the world’s grain and 80 percent of the world’s soya is fed to the animals we rear for food.
- Intensive animal farming can cause serious water pollution such as eutrophication, an excessive amount of algae in the water caused by run-off of animal faeces and leftover feed, often leading to loss of fish and other aquatic wildlife.
- On average it takes between 15,000 and 20,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of beef, which works out to approximately 3,000 litres of water to produce one 200g beef burger - the equivalent of 30 x 5-minute showers. (1x 200g beef burger = 30x 5-minute showers).
- Forty percent of fish destined for human consumption comes from freshwater ecosystems, but the vast quantities of fish excrement and uneaten fish food that settles on the pond bed makes the perfect environment for the production of the greenhouse gas methane.
- A meat-free diet can cut our water footprint in half! Studies show that a healthy meat-free diet reduces our water footprint by up to 55%.
- The United Nations Environment Assembly says that plant-based burgers require between 75 – 99 percent less water; 93 – 95 per cent less land; and generate 87 – 90 per cent fewer emissions than regular beef burgers.
- “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use. It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” said University of Oxford’s Joseph Poore, who led the most comprehensive analysis of the damage farming does to the planet.
South Africa’s Department of Water & Sanitation recently warned that water security will likely get worse “due to negative impacts… from climate change, degradation of wetlands and water resources, siltation of dams, water losses and escalating demand due to population and economic growth, urbanization, inefficient use, and changing lifestyles.” According to the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs, 60 percent of South Africa’s water supply is used for agricultural use (including irrigation) whereas only 11.5 percent is used for urban and domestic use.
Leozette Roode, Media and Outreach Manager for HSI/Africa, says: “With the devastating droughts South Africa is experiencing, many people are trying hard to save every drop of water possible, without realising that one of the most effective ways we can all conserve water is to reduce or replace meat and dairy with planet-friendly, plant-based products. The vast quantities of water used by animal agriculture to grow animal feed, hydrate billions of animals, disinfect abattoir equipment and process animal products is contributing to our planet’s water scarcity. In addition to the animal welfare and human health benefits of cutting meat, looking after the earth’s scarce resources is a compelling reason to Eat Green for World Water Day.”
“HSI/Africa launched our Green Monday SA meat-reduction program to encourage South Africans to eat plant-based every Monday, because we can all make a huge difference by cutting animal products even one day a week. It’s so much easier than we might think, such as using oat milk instead of dairy milk and adding protein-rich pulses such as lentils and beans to soups and stews. ‘Meaty’ vegetables like mushrooms are great in pasta dishes, and soaked cashews make creamy sauces and cheeses. There is also a variety of meat alternative brands available in South Africa to replace braai favourites like patties, schnitzels, nuggets and sausages.”
Numerous studies indicate that a diet rich in plant-based foods has considerable health benefits. The World Health Organisation estimates that worldwide obesity has tripled since 1975. In South Africa, nearly 30 percent of men and 56 percent of women are either overweight or obese. Studies show that people who eat fewer animal products have lower rates of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis and cancer. Replacing meat, milk and eggs produced by industrial agriculture also benefits farm animals in South Africa, millions of whom spend their entire lives in cages or crates, where they are unable to exercise, engage in their natural behaviours, and often cannot even turn around because of lack of space.