Food industry is unprepared for future freshwater shortages, report finds

Food industry is unprepared for future freshwater shortages, report finds

The food industry uses a lot of water, but many food production companies are unprepared for water shortages brought about by climate change, drought and over use.

The food industry uses a lot of water. According to the FAO, “Agriculture, and especially irrigated agriculture, is the sector with by far the largest consumptive water use and water withdrawal.” According to the World Bank, “In most regions of the world, over 70 percent of freshwater is used for agriculture,” and by the year 2050, feeding the planet “will require an estimated 50 percent increase in agricultural production and a 15 percent increase in water withdrawals.”

Yet, there are global companies that don’t take increasing water needs and likely water shortages into account.

In a new report by international non-profit CERES, 38 of the largest global food and beverage companies were ranked on their water management.  Companies were assessed across four categories of water management, based on information found in company public disclosures: Governance (22 points); Risk Assessment (28 points); Targets (36 points); and Implementation (14 points).

CERES’ analysis found that “food companies are fundamentally unprepared for a more water-stressed world.”

Some highlights from the report:

The highest scoring companies (scoring 80 and above):

  • Coca-Cola (90)
  • Unilever (83)
  • AB InBev (83)
  • Nestle (80)

All of the top 10 performers in the report were from the Packaged Food and Beverage sectors. 

The lowest scoring companies (scoring 12 and below):

  • JBS (12)
  • Chiquita Brands (11)
  • Perdue Farms (11)
  • Hain Celestial (9)
  • Sanderson Farms (6)
  • Pilgrim’s Pride (4)
  • Monster Beverage (0)

Four of the seven meat companies analyzed in the report were in the bottom 10.

The results are disappointing, especially given that meat companies are incredibly reliant on water supplies. This is because livestock eats a lot of feed, which is typically either rainfed or irrigated.

It’s surprising that meat companies aren’t more invested on where their water comes from, given the already noticeable impacts of climate change, which can enhance the intensity of droughts and alter where, when and how precipitation falls. CERES noted that “None of the meat companies had a water reduction goal in their agricultural supply chains.”

[Food Dive]