af contributor |calgary
We’ve all heard about carbon footprints, but what about water footprints?
Water production in agriculture is becoming a hot topic in the environmental movement and experts say the concept is starting to hit the radar screens of consumers.
A water footprint is defined as the amount of water it takes to create a unit of product. For example, according to the not-for- profit organization Alberta Waterportal ( www.albertawater.com), it takes 4,500 litres of virtual water (the water consumed or polluted) to produce one 300-gram beef steak; 1,170 litres to produce one 300-gram breast filet of chicken; 500 litres to grow one pound of wheat; and 70 litres to produce one apple.
Those sorts of figures are garnering a lot of attention as global freshwater supplies become increasingly scarce.
Major food companies are responding to concerns about water footprints. Unilever – which buys an estimated seven per cent of the global tomato crop – announced that their tomato pasta sauce will now be made exclusively from tomatoes grown via water-conserving drip irrigation. In the spring of 2009, a Finish margarine company called Raiso became the first company to start printing water footprint details on its product packaging.
And Walmart may not be far behind. The global giant is developing a product labelling system that will list both the water and carbon footprints of products, and is making supplier decisions based on those environmental measures.
Alberta could be fertile ground for this new environmental issue. Water scarcity is a growing concern in the province. For example, portions of the South Saskatchewan river basin are now closed to new water-license applications, which has led to Canada’s first ever market-based water-license trading system.
Alberta Agriculture has begun work on environmental footprints for agricultural commodities, which may include water, energy, carbon (greenhouse gas), nutrients, and pesticide footprints. The goal is two-fold, said Kerrianne Koehler-Munro, environmental program specialist with the Environmental Stewardship Division of Alberta Agriculture.
It will give consumers an accurate source of information and it will help food producers better understand their environmental impact so they can seek ways to become more efficient.
“Producers should see this work as a real opportunity, not a disadvantage,” said Koehler- Munro.
“If we’re able to be transparent about the inputs of our products, we can be competitive with other markets, commodities, and jurisdictions. That’s the basis of this project. The more you know, the more you can use that information to position your products in the market.”
The project is just getting underway and many of the details haven’t been worked out. Koehler-Munro said commodity groups, processors and retailers will be consulted on things such as how to measure the regional water footprint per commodity or per farm.
Ifwe’reabletobe transparentaboutthe inputsofourproducts, wecanbecompetitive withothermarkets, commodities,and jurisdictions.That’sthe basisofthisproject.”
Environmental Program Specialist