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It is a precious good that is now at the heart of the battles. With global warming, the issue of water is causing many concerns. Struck by an unprecedented drought last summer, Brittany seems to have discovered that it too is not immune to a shortage. Faced with this risk, many voices are raised in the region to denounce the impact of the food industry on water resources. In Liffré, near Rennes, the Bridor group's project to build a frozen pastry factory is being strongly contested, with opponents denouncing its "astronomical water consumption" of around 200,000 cubic meters per year. The same is true in Plouisy near Guingamp (Côtes-d'Armor) where the Norwegian group Smart Salmon is planning to build a factory capable of producing 8,000 tons of salmon per year.

A heavyweight in the regional economy, the food industry, which employs more than 70,000 people in Brittany, does not hide the fact that its activities are very greedy. "We consume a lot of water because we have to clean the installations regularly for sanitary reasons," says Nathalie Le Clézio, environment manager at Entremont. A subsidiary of the Sodiaal cooperative, the cheese manufacturer uses up to 2,000 cubic meters of water per day at some of its five sites in Brittany, the equivalent of a town of 13,000 inhabitants. In its giant factory in Lamballe (Côtes-d'Armor), Cooperl, the French leader in pork, consumes 530,000 m³ per year.
Reduce, reuse and recycle

Industrialists have been trying to reduce these colossal quantities of water for several years. "We know that we must make our companies more sober and do better with less," says Marie Kieffer, general delegate of the Breton Association of Food Companies (ABEA). Since late 2019, this lobby has set up a working group called "Clean Water Collective" which advocates a 3R approach (reduce, reuse and recycle). Omnipresent in Brittany, the dairy industry reuses, for example, water from milk in place of drinking water for outdoor cleaning operations or to wash trucks. Cooperl also does the same thanks to a regeneration station that treats industrial water.

These actions have reduced water consumption by several percent. "But we are at the limit of what is feasible to reduce," says Vincent Videau, head of industrial risk management at the dairy giant Laïta. For them, the solution lies in the development of Reuse, a solution already in place in several European countries that allows treated wastewater to be reused. On this subject, French regulations are currently very strict for food processing companies. "We can only use drinking water in the food process, for example to clean production lines," says Clothilde d'Argentré, environmental project manager at ABEA.

A saving of several million m3 of water

So many regulatory obstacles are in the process of being removed. In his water plan presented last week, Emmanuel Macron opened the way to a better use and recovery of wastewater with a target of 10%, against less than 1% of reuse today. "That is 300 million cubic meters, the equivalent of the consumption of 3,500 bottles of water per French person per year," said the head of state. This long-awaited announcement was of course welcomed by the food industry. "It is a measure of good sense which will allow us to go even further in the reduction of our consumption", underlines Marie Kieffer.

According to a study conducted by the ABEA among 28 industrial sites in Brittany, the lifting of regulatory barriers on the Reuse should save "more than 2.5 million m³ of drinking water each year, the equivalent of 1,000 Olympic swimming pools. Gathered within the Atla, the actors of the dairy sector estimate the savings at more than 16 million m³ each year, including in this figure the 5 million already reused. However, before taking the plunge, manufacturers will have to wait for the publication of the decree that will detail the entire health monitoring protocol. "We will have to wait for the administrative time to pass, but in any case the companies are ready", assures Clothilde d'Argentré.

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