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Meat industry racks up low scores on water management

In a two-year update of its Feeding Ourselves Thirsty report, the nonprofit Ceres said that “food companies need to do more” to manage risks to the water they use to grow and process their products. The 38 major food companies in the Ceres analysis had an average score of 49 out of 100 possible points. The meat sector “still lags considerably,” with an average score of 18 points.

Four meatpackers — JBS, Perdue Farms, Sanderson Farms, and Pilgrim’s Pride — were in the bottom 10 companies on the Ceres list. Among the water risks Ceres cited were declining flows in the Colorado River basin, which could have significant impact on beef production. More than half of the irrigation water in the basin is used to grow livestock feed. “In response to mandatory water reductions, farmers are fallowing fields, reducing their herd size, and switching to less water-intensive crops,” the report said.

Climate change and population growth are among the threats to the supply of fresh water. “Overall, companies do not have sufficient water risk management practices in place across categories of water management, including governance, risk assessment, targets, and implementation,” said Ceres, which works with investors to influence corporate policies “to build a just and sustainable future.”

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.

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