IChemE calls for reduced water use in food and drink production
The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) is calling for coordinated action to reduce the amount of hidden water used in food and drink production, estimated to be up to 1.8 million litres per person annually. Around 90% of all freshwater is used by agriculture (70%) and industry (20%), leaving just 10% for domestic use.
IChemE said each person consumes between 2,000-5,000 litres of water embedded in their food, every day but as the population grows and more people move to a western-style diet, water extraction is estimated to increase by more than 50% to 6,900 billion m3 a year. By 2050, the overall impact will see around two thirds of the world’s population living in ‘water scare’ areas, compared to just 7% currently.
Andy Furlong, IChemE director of policy, said: “Chemical engineers provide many of the high level skills needed to provide the water, food, medicines and energy to sustain our ever-growing population. In recent years and decades, we have seen how difficult it has been to agree and set targets to manage issues like climate change.
“Population growth will throw up similar challenges and will have a direct impact on two of the building blocks for life – food and water. Estimates suggest that we will need to produce 60% more food by 2050."
Furlong estimated that agriculture will need around 19% more water to produce that extra food. He said: “It is clear that current production methods are unsustainable and there are genuine risks of food shortages, rising food prices, droughts and social unrest for future generations unless we make more efficient use of water.
“There are solutions, but these will require political will, major investment and lifestyle changes. Chemical engineers are recommending that a global target is set to reduce the amount of water used in food production worldwide by 20%."
He added that a combination of regulations and incentives should be introduced to require industry to monitor their water usage, as well as be rewarded for using alternative and sustainable water supplies.
“Revised planning frameworks and investment will be needed for the construction of new capacity, infrastructure and appropriate technologies to improve efficiency of water management in food and drink production," said Furlong.
A full analysis of the hidden water footprint in food and IChemE’s recommendations are contained in its new policy report Water Management in the Food and Drink Industry.
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