HomeNewsVideo: Tracing embedded water in US meat and ethanol supply chains

Video: Tracing embedded water in US meat and ethanol supply chains

Water is embedded in everything we eat. There’s water inside a banana, a leaf of lettuce, an ear of corn — but the most water, by far, is in meat. In part because water goes into corn and soybeans – and then animals eat those feeds. So swearing off meat should be a great way to lower your water footprint, right? Well… not exactly.

Some corn and soybeans are grown where water is plentiful; some require irrigation – sometimes in water-scarce places. New research from experts at the University of Minnesota and the University of New Mexico analyzed the embedded irrigation water in U.S. chicken, pork, beef, and ethanol by tracing the water through the supply chain – identifying meat and fuel “fed” corn and soybeans grown with irrigated water in water-scarce areas.

Forthcoming on Friday in Environmental Research Letters, the study is the first of its kind to trace these water impacts at such a granular scale, giving companies and consumers a more nuanced picture of our water impacts. Below, IonE Fellow and lead author Kate Brauman details the study’s main findings.


Check out the full study (available now as an accepted manuscript) – with co-authors Rylie Pelton and Jennifer Schmitt of IonE; Taegon Kim and Tim Smith from the University of Minnesota’s Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering; and Andrew Goodkind of University of New Mexico, Albuquerque.

Brauman, KA, AL Goodkind, T Kim, R Pelton, J Schmitt and TM Smith (2020). “Unique water scarcity footprints and water risks in US meat and ethanol supply chains identified via subnational commodity flows.” Environmental Research Letters.


A graduate of the University of Minnesota, Grace Becker is a former student communications associate at the Institute on the Environment.

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