The green, blue and grey water footprint of animals and animal products

Mesfin Mekonnen, Arjen Ysbert Hoekstra

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The projected increase in the production and consumption of animal products is likely to put further pressure on the globe’s freshwater resources. The size and characteristics of the water footprint vary across animal types and production systems. The current study provides a comprehensive account of the global green, blue and grey water footprints of different sorts of farm animals and animal products, distinguishing between different production systems and considering the conditions in all countries of the world separately. The following animal categories were considered: beef cattle, dairy cattle, pig, sheep, goat, broiler chicken, layer chicken and horses. The study shows that the water footprint of meat from beef cattle (15400 m3/ton as a global average) is much larger than the footprints of meat from sheep (10400 m3/ton), pig (6000 m3/ton), goat (5500 m3/ton) or chicken (4300 m3/ton). The global average water footprint of chicken egg is 3300 m3/ton, while the water footprint of cow milk amounts to 1000 m3/ton. Per ton of product, animal products generally have a larger water footprint than crop products. The same is true when we look at the water footprint per calorie. The average water footprint per calorie for beef is twenty times larger than for cereals and starchy roots. When we look at the water requirements for protein, we find that the water footprint per gram of protein for milk, eggs and chicken meat is about 1.5 times larger than for pulses. For beef, the water footprint per gram of protein is 6 times larger than for pulses. In the case of fat, we find that butter has a relatively small water footprint per gram of fat, even lower than for oil crops. All other animal products, however, have larger water footprints per gram of fat when compared to oil crops. The study shows that from a freshwater resource perspective, it is more efficient to obtain calories, protein and fat through crop products than animal products.
Original languageUndefined
Place of PublicationDelft, the Netherlands
PublisherUnesco-IHE Institute for Water Education
Number of pages50
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Publication series

NameValue of water research report 48
PublisherUNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education


  • METIS-271928
  • IR-76912

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