October 31, 2022


Research looks into use of water in beef supply chains



Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh have designed a model that reports the beef industry's impact on the use of water in beef supply chains from calf production to beef consumption at county level, Phys.org reported.

The model specifically traces virtual water flows, or the hidden movement of water in food production, and how it affects the environment in previously unknown ways.


Vikas Khanna, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and Wellington C. Carl Faculty Fellow at the Swanson School of Engineering, said for assessing the environmental sustainability of food systems and creating improvement plans, it is essential to comprehend beef demand as well as the spatial distribution of both feed and cattle production.


Large amounts of water are needed for all animal production, with the majority going toward making feed. Blue water, which is present in surface and underground reservoirs, is needed for the irrigation process for feed. The use of only blue water raises serious environmental issues like soil erosion, water logging, water depletion, and salinization.


Anas Ostroski, lead author of the report and doctoral student, said they discovered that approximately 3.5 cubic metres of blue water are required to irrigate feed crops for every tonne of boneless beef consumed in the US. That is more than 900 gallons of water. At room temperature, one tonne of beef requires roughly 3.7 tonnes of water to produce.


The model discovered there is a significant disconnect between consumption and production counties, with over 22 billion cubic metres of virtual blue water being transferred in 2017 alone, using an optimization-based framework and publicly available datasets on supply and demand. The Great Salt Lake has a volume of 19 billion cubic metres for comparison.


Khanna said that real-world networks typically have a highly skewed degree of distributions with few highly connected intersections. The majority of counties in their network have very few connections, whereas a small number of counties have many connections.


Oleg Prokopyev, an industrial engineering professor, and Tomas Lagos, a Ph.D. candidate in the field, conducted the research with Khanna and Ostroski.


The team's next step is to use the developed framework to analyse the environmental effects of other animal-based production methods and pinpoint areas for improvement.


The report was published in Environmental Science & Technology.


-      Phys.org

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