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February 27, 2021

Save water – eat less meat

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Photo Gunnar Magnusson

AUSVEG, the national peak industry body representing vegetable growers, is encouraging Australians to celebrate National Water Week this week by eating more fresh vegetables.

A 2010 study by Netherlands academics Mesfin Mekkonen and Arjen Hoekstra of the University of Twente took global averages of the amount of water required to produce a kilogram of different types of food, with vegetables significantly outperforming other agricultural products.

‘When it comes to the food groups, vegetables win hands down for water efficiency,’ said AUSVEG environment spokesperson Mr Jordan Brooke-Barnett.

‘The study found that while vegetables only required 322 litres of water on average to produce a kilogram of food, animal products were much more water intensive, with 3265 litres required to produce a kilogram of eggs and 5553 litres to produce that same kilogram in butter,’ said Mr Brooke-Barnett.

Of the meats presented in the study, chicken meat was the most water-efficient requiring 4325 litres per kilogram, while pig meat and sheep/goat meet averaged 5988 and 8763 litres of water respectively. Cows were by far the worst for water efficiency, however, requiring 15,415 litres per kilogram of meat.

‘Findings show that a kilogram of vegetables is 10 times as water efficient as a kilogram of eggs and 47 times as efficient as a kilogram of beef,’ said Mr Brooke-Barnett.

The Netherlands study is supported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics publication Experimental Estimates of the Gross Value of Irrigated Agricultural Production, 2000–01 – 2007–08, which shows the value of production per megalitre of water used in vegetable production was $6,901 in 2007–08, compared to the average of all agricultural industries of $1,959.

‘Vegetable growers get some of the best economic returns per megalitre of water used compared to other agriculture industries,’ said Mr Brooke-Barnett.

National Water Week, which runs 21–27 October, was established in 1993 as a way to encourage the community to take action and conserve our water resources, and is coordinated by the Australian Water Association.

AUSVEG works with growers to improve water efficiency through its EnviroVeg Program.

‘Through the EnviroVeg Program, growers are proactively monitoring, and assess their environmental performance each year in areas such as water management.

‘EnviroVeg is supporting Australian vegetable growers to plan and invest in water-efficiency technologies and encouraging adoption of the latest technologies and techniques.’

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  1. These statistics don’t reveal the whole story and as usual reflect the agenda of those presenting the data.

    Many vegetables are largely composed of starch and fibre so one kilogram of them is not directly comparable on nutritional value
    to one kilogram of meat or eggs which contain far more protein.

    Moreover such “research” invariably cites the most intensive kinds of production in the case of the product the presenter is trying to discredit. In the case of beef it will be grain fed lot cattle.

    I run a few grass fed cattle. The only water they use falls on their paddocks as rain or is piped into water troughs from a small dam for them to drink.


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