Water use and water quality are priorities at JBS USA and critical pillars in our sustainability program. We recognize that water scarcity is a major global issue and that water is critical to securing a constant and consistent, high-quality global food supply. We embrace our responsibility to reduce water use and strive to improve our water-stewardship efforts by monitoring use at each JBS USA facility and prioritizing usage reductions, while preserving our high standards for food safety and sanitary conditions. We are also aware that some JBS USA facilities are located in water-stressed areas and require a more strategic focus to ensure proper water management. Water quality is also an important priority for us, and we continuously work to make sure that all wastewater we discharge meets or exceeds all regulatory and internal quality standards.
At JBS USA, water stewardship is crucial to our long-term viability. Companywide, our approach to water stewardship is defined at the corporate level, but individual goals and targets are developed at each facility to ensure ownership and accountability. Each facility is tasked with responding to unique local challenges and determines the most effective approach at that location, including withdrawal sources, discharge destinations, wastewater treatment programs and reuse and recycling strategies. We work closely and collaboratively with federal, state and local municipalities to address complex issues and jointly develop solutions. Finally, every facility invests capital annually to make sure that goals are achieved and local challenges are appropriately addressed.
There are many operational challenges associated with reduced water use from our production and further processing facilities—most important, the critical role water plays in a safe food supply. Water is used every day in our facilities so that the highest food safety standards are met, and in some facilities, dramatic reductions in water use could compromise our food safety and food-quality standards. We work cross-functionally across our environmental, engineering, operations and food quality and safety teams when designing and implementing water reduction strategies to ensure that food safety is never compromised.
The greatest opportunity of water reduction is through water recycling projects. All of our production facilities recycle water. Depending on the facility, this may include elaborate recycle systems that allow previously used water to be reused in other areas of the facility, wastewater to be reused to flush animal pens or potable water to be used to recover wasted heat (from rendering cookers, for example) before being reused as heated water throughout the facility.
“Water conservation is a part of our culture. Each facility implements leading best management practices, and our team members are passionate about continuous improvement and leading the company in water savings.”
Group Environment Manager, JBS Australia
In our cattle feedlots and live hog operations, water is essential to the well-being of our animals and the reduction of dust and odor, which can be a nuisance for neighboring businesses and communities. We work to conserve water while balancing these critically important aspects of our daily operations where water use is necessary for our success.
Each of our production and further processing facilities has a wastewater treatment program specifically tailored to that facility’s discharge permit requirements. These site-specific programs have helped reduce our total discharged water volume and addressed noncompliance issues. All of our feedlots and live hog operations are managed in accordance with federally mandated nutrient-management plans or equivalents. Manure generated from our feedlots and live hog operations plays an important role in conservation as a soil amendment and fertilizer, as it is composted and used by local farmers to enhance soil quality in place of synthetic fertilizers.
In our feedlots and live hog operations, surface water and groundwater are protected by appropriately sized and sealed retention ponds that hold all storm water runoff. Collected water is then used for dust control or to irrigate surrounding farmland.
*Goals set based on 2013, 2014, 2015 average baselines for our U.S. and Canadian facilites
We track both total water use and water intensity (water use per lb. of finished product including by-products) to consistently identify opportunities for improvements, irrespective of changes in production. In 2018, we used approximately 29 billion gallons of water in our JBS USA facilities, drawing 58 percent of this water from public municipalities, 26 percent from groundwater sources and 16 percent from surface water, including streams. We reused approximately 2.2 billion gallons of water in 2018, which is approximately 8 percent of our total water consumption. We will work to continue to optimize water use and identify opportunities to reduce water use intensity without compromising food safety, animal welfare or environmental compliance.
Unfortunately, from 2017 to 2018, our water use intensity increased by 5 percent as a global company. This is primarily due to two factors: increased water use at Pilgrim’s for additional necessary food safety interventions; and JBS Australia harvesting more beef cattle but at reduced weights and fewer lambs as a result of severe weather conditions. Furthermore, JBS Australia installed additional water meters at their facilities in 2018, which increased the overall accuracy of water measurement. In 2019, we will increase our focus on water, ensuring that we stay committed to reducing this critical resource while maintaining our high food safety standards.
“Water is a critical component of providing consumers a safe and quality protein—we take this and our water conservation programs seriously and support our efforts with significant capital expenditures and diligence to adopt best practices into our process.”
Environmental Director, JBS USA Fed Beef
For our business units in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico that participated in our 2020 goal-setting process, overall water use intensity increased 0.7 percent since 2015. Unfortunately, from 2017 to 2018, their water use intensity increased 2.6 percent. This is primarily due to increased water use by Pilgrim’s for additional necessary food safety interventions. These teams will continue to stay focused on reducing water use to meet our 10 percent reduction target in 2020.
In 2018, all of our facilities treated wastewater to achieve water-quality levels suitable for discharge. JBS USA includes both modern and legacy facilities that require varying levels of water systems, infrastructure maintenance and support. We have steadily increased our investment in our wastewater programs to make sure that we maintain and, where needed, improve compliance with permits, laws and regulations. Discharged water is measured for its overall quality at each facility to ensure that it meets permitting requirements. The majority, 53 percent, of discharged water is sent to city-owned treatment centers, while 30 percent is discharged into non-municipalities, and 17 percent is used as land irrigation.