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Environ Int. 2013 Nov;61:45-56. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2013.09.011. Epub 2013 Oct 3.

Potential water saving through changes in European diets.

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European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Institute for Environment and Sustainability, Via E. Fermi 2749, 21027 Ispra, VA, Italy. Electronic address:


This study quantifies the water footprint of consumption (WFcons) regarding agricultural products for three diets - the current diet (REF), a healthy diet (HEALTHY) and a vegetarian diet (VEG) - for the four EU zones WEST, NORTH, SOUTH and EAST. The WFcons related to the consumption of agricultural products (4265l per capita per day or lcd) accounts for 89% of the EU's total WFcons (4815lcd). The effect of diet has therefore an essential impact on the total WFcons. The current zonal WFcons regarding agricultural products is: 5875lcd (SOUTH), 4053lcd (EAST), 3761lcd (WEST) and 3197lcd (NORTH). These differences are the result of different consumption behaviours as well as different agricultural production methods and conditions. From the perspective of a healthy diet based on regional dietary guidelines, the intake of several product groups (sugar, crop oils, animal fats and meat) should be decreased and increased for others (vegetables, fruit). The WFcons regarding agricultural products for the alternative diets are the following: HEALTHY 4110lcd (-30%) and VEG 3476lcd (-41%) for SOUTH; HEALTHY 3606lcd (-11%) and VEG 2956lcd (-27%) for EAST; HEALTHY 2766lcd (-26%) and VEG 2208lcd (-41%) for WEST; HEALTHY 3091lcd (-3%) and VEG 2166lcd (-32%) for NORTH. Both the healthy and vegetarian diets thus result - consistent for all zones - in substantial WFcons reductions. The largest reduction takes place for the vegetarian diet. Indeed, a lot of water can be saved by EU citizens by a change in their diet.


Diet; EU; Sustainable consumption; Water; Water footprint; Water resources management

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