Eblex report downplays water use

English beef and lamb production consumes just a small fraction of available drinking water, according to research from levy body Eblex.

With water use a major issue when it comes to the environmental impact of meat production, Eblex claims its report is the first reliable report into the sectors water footprint.

Total water use for English beef is 17,657 litres (l) per kg, higher than the global average for beef of 15,500l per kg, but Duncan Pullar, Eblex head of R&D, said 85% of that figure represented rainfall, or 'green' water, and only 67l of water used in beef production came from the drinking supply, known as 'blue' water.

English lamb production used a total of 57,759l, but just 49l of that was blue, with 96.6% made up of green water.

Pullar said: "Effectively, we're not taking water away from other human use when its green water; it's essentially rainwater. Sheep production is often in wetter areas, so the green water figure is higher."


The research was carried out as part of phase two of Eblex's Environmental Roadmap, entitled Testing the Water, which was published this week.


The report aims to connect commercial performance and environmental performance for the first time, in a bid to encourage producers to boost both.


According to Eblex, beef producers who cut their greenhouse gas emissions can see improved returns to the tune of 50p a kg, while sheep farmers can gain 28p a kg.


The report has also reassessed the carbon footprint of meat production, and revised the figures upwards. Phase one of the Roadmap estimated the average beef producer produced 11kg of CO2 per kg of meat, however the new report puts that at 23.8kg per kg of meat.


Pullar defended the rise, saying that improved methodology and a wider sample of producers had given a broader set of results, and truer picture of the situation, which would allow industry to improve further.


"This is a very young science and we're trying to develop the best method to understand it. I don't think it's a mistake to apply the best methodology to improve understanding and move the industry forward."


The publication of the report has been welcomed by agriculture minister Jim Paice.


"This shows there is real potential for a greener more sustainable industry. Eblex has shown genuine leadership... and I look forward to seeing the Roadmap continue to develop in the future as a catalyst for change," he said.


John Cross, chairman of Eblex, said: "The good news is that we can now clearly demonstrate [environmental] changes go hand in hand with improved economic performance. What is more challenging is that there is still much more that needs to be done to reduce our carbon footprint."


The full report can be downloaded from the Eblex website by visiting www.eblex.org.uk/publications/corporate.aspx.

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