What is the water impact of the U.S. beef industry?
Animal-based products constitute a major portion of an average American’s diet, and, as food systems in the U.S. become increasingly more complex and interconnected, these products often impact the environment in previously unknown ways. For instance, water is heavily needed throughout the entire food supply. Now, a team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh has designed a model to assess the beef industry’s impact on virtual water flows (the hidden movement of water in food production) by tracing beef supply chains from calf production to beef consumption at the county level.
“Understanding beef demands and the spatial distribution of both feed and cattle production are key for evaluating the environmental sustainability of food systems and developing improvement strategies,” said study senior author Vikas Khanna, an associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh.
According to the experts, all animal production requires large quantities of water, with the vast majority being used to produce feed. Since the irrigation process for feed requires “blue water” – water found in surface and ground reservoirs – it can lead to major environmental concerns such as water depletion, water logging, salinization, and soil degradation.