Environment: Pork’s Water Footprint = 8 Gallons/4 Ounces

Agriculture’s impact on the environment – such as land and water use, carbon footprint contributions and air emissions – is a hot-button issue with the public. But sorting the hype from scientific reality isn’t always easy. Consequently, Pork Checkoff funded a series of Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) for the pork industry. LCAs offer a method to evaluate impacts and risks of management decisions throughout the pork supply chain, the researchers said.

field to fork water footprintIn this study, University of Arkansas researchers used LCA to analyze water use in the U.S. pork industry from cradle to farm gate and from cradle to fork. The results estimated the overall U.S. pork water footprint at 18 gallons per pound, or 8.2 gallons per 4-ounce serving of boneless pork. Feed accounts for 83 percent to 93 percent of the water footprint for the entire pork supply chain, depending on the feed source and its dependency on irrigation.

On-farm use accounts for about 13 percent of pork’s water footprint, consisting of drinking, cooling and washing water. Because drinking water tallied the largest share, replacing nipple drinkers with properly positioned cup-style drinkers could cut the farm-gate water footprint by as much as 30 percent, or 3 percent for the total pork supply chain.

The study found that post-farm-gate stages – processing, packaging, distribution and consumer – contribute a relatively small portion to pork’s total water footprint.

In the end, feed sourcing offers the greatest potential to affect pork’s water footprint, according to lead researcher Marty Matlock. But the best approach is to evaluate each farm individually to make a well informed decision.

To get more details on this extensive research, go to http://research.pork.org/11-133.

For an in-depth look at the LCA of land use in pork production, go to http://research.pork.org/13-208.