The virtual water impact of the U.S. beef networkSource: University of PittsburghSummary:Researchers have developed a framework to understand wa...

The virtual water impact of the U.S. beef networkSource: University of PittsburghSummary:Researchers have developed a framework to understand wa...The virtual water impact of the U.S. beef network
Source: University of Pittsburgh
Summary:Researchers have developed a framework to understand water use in beef supply chains from production to consumption.

Animal-based products constitute a large portion of the average American's diet, as well as the resources necessary to get them from field to table. But as food systems in the US become more interconnected and complex, what we choose to put on our plates -- beef products in particular -- often impacts the environment in previously unknown ways.

Water is heavily needed throughout the entire food supply, but the beef industry is the least efficient at using it. University of Pittsburgh researchers designed a model that reports the 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 Vikas Khanna, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and Wellington C. Carl Faculty Fellow at the Swanson School of Engineering.

All animal production requires great quantities of water, with the vast majority used to produce feed. The irrigation process for feed requires blue water, which is water found in surface and ground reservoirs. Using blue water exclusively can lead to significant environmental concerns like water depletion, water logging, salinization, and soil degradation.
https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.2c03986