Accounting for water

water drop splash in blueIn 2014, water – and how it is used – will be one of the major concerns for the global food industry. As the most significant reform of New Zealand’s freshwater management system is underway, a new and soon-to-be-launched international standard could assist meat businesses to account for their water use.

Accounting for water in company’s books is moving to the front of mind of food retail giants, like Marks & Spencer, and governments too. There are moves in the UK to encourage supermarkets and food producers to account for the amount of water involved in the products they sell, whether from imported or local sources.

One British expert in the analysis of water resources in semi-arid regions and director of the London Water Research Group at King’s College London, John Allan, developed the concept of ‘virtual water’, which is a determination of how much ‘embedded’ water it takes to produce a product: one kg of beef, for example, is said to require 10-20,000 litres of water to produce. Allan recently won the 2013 Prince Albert II Foundation’s Water Award, which provides him with $65,500 (€40,000) to highlight the role of water in food supply chains and to advance the introduction of reporting and accounting rules on water.

Accordingly, international standards are being developed for water stewardship. One of these is the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS)’s new ISEAL Alliance-compliant International Water Stewardship Standard that defines a set of water stewardship principles, criteria and indicators for how water should be stewarded at a site and watershed level in a way that is environmentally, socially and economically beneficial. The trial period for the beta Standard recently closed and the new Standard is scheduled for release this April.

Kevin O'Grady (far right) working on water stewardship in Chile with Fundacion Chile.Kiwi quality consultant Kevin O’Grady of Australia-based Pinnacle Quality, has been working with the beta Standard over the past couple of years. He has completed exercises with a number of industries to ascertain what they might need to meet the new requirements. His involvement has included a Marks & Spencer funded project looking at cut flowers in Africa, another in Australia’s dairy industry and one for Ingham’s chickens – which he says gave him a good idea of the water issues for the meat processing industry.

“One of the key learnings is that many things the New Zealand meat industry already does may also tick off AWS,” he comments adding that AWS will accept equivalent compliance, unlike other standards.

Silver Fern Farms’ Te Aroha plant, the newest in New Zealand, is an example showcase for the latest new water efficient technology (see FoodNZ February/March 2013). The plant was built using international best environmental practice – above and beyond what is required by the local council.

O’Grady’s suggestion is for the meat industry to pilot the beta standard against industry best practice in New Zealand and use that to predict what they need to do.

“It may not be much, but it’s better to know now not later when customers are asking about progress.”

Meanwhile, here in New Zealand, the most significant reform of freshwater management system in a generation is underway, according to the Ministry for the Environment. Meat processors and producers are intrinsically bound into the results as it will affect how they treat and handle water.

The latest report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright: Land Use and Nutrient Pollution shows “just what could happen with our water quality if we do not have good policy in place to drive more careful and efficient use of our land and water,” said Environment Minister Amy Adams at its launch.

In 2013, the government released ‘Freshwater reform 2013 and beyond’, which set out the Government’s approach to reforming New Zealand’s freshwater management system, and signalled proposals in two main areas:  a collaborative planning option, an alternative to the current process; and greater central government direction, including a National Objectives Framework and consistent templates for councils.

The Meat Industry Association (MIA) has a strong interest in new water regulations which may affect the industry’s ability to use and discharge water and may have cost or flexibility implications for livestock suppliers.

The MIA is actively participating in the Land and Water Partnership, alongside Beef + Lamb NZ, Deer Industry NZ, AgResearch and others. The Partnership seeks to provide a Forum for primary sector groups to develop common policy positions on freshwater management issues, and MIA participation is seen as useful by the wider group, chief executive Tim Ritchie comments.

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This article has appeared in Food NZ magazine (February/March 2014) and is reproduced here with permission.


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