One of the biggest chicken producers in the Midwest, GNP Co., has been awarded the 2013 Clean Water Award by the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association in recognition of the water conservation efforts it has made in its chicken processing plant in Minnesota.

The award is the highest environmental honor for the poultry industry, recognizing the company's water treatment facility, which uses membrane bioreactor (MBR) technology to reuse up to one-third of the daily amount of water it needs in the manufacturing process, or approximately 400,000 to 500,000 gallons of reclaimed water, GNP said in a statement.

According to details published in the company's sustainability report, GNP spent two years researching options and evaluating systems before selecting the MBR technology to complete a major expansion and upgrade of its wastewater treatment plant at its Cold Spring, Minn., chicken processing facility in 2011.

The MBR technology is a combination of conventional biological wastewater treatment methods with an advanced membrane filtration system. In the first stage of the treatment process the wastewater is treated with bacteria to remove contaminants and it is later vacuumed through a membrane filter that cleans it further. As a result of the holistic approach to treatment, the treated water is clean enough to be used in areas that are not in direct contact with food. In addition, ultraviolet disinfection is used to treat all water before it is returned to the local river. Overall, the cleaned water exceeds industry standards and has no traceable odors, GNP stated.

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GNP explains that the technology removes biological phosphorus and nitrogen by-products, which is of major importance for fish and other water organisms, whereas solids that remain after the treatment are collected and used to produce a compost product that puts important nutrients into the land, rather than wasting them. An energy-efficient air blower system has been installed in the Minnesota plant as a measure for additional savings.

According to Mike Helgeson, GNP CEO, the award is an acknowledgement of the company's commitment to preserving "the viability and beauty of the natural landscape and resources." The U.S. Poultry & Egg Association's award is an honor for GNP because it also recognizes the investments that the company has made in water treatment, Helgeson added.

Meanwhile, other poultry industry companies have also been busy implementing water conservation schemes in an effort to cut costs and to improve their energy consumption. One of them, poultry agribusiness firm Perdue Farms, managed to reduce its water consumption by over 683,000 gallons a week at each one of its 14 food production facilities. This was achieved thanks to a leaking valves monitoring system, as well as by screening and chlorination to re-use water from bird washing.

Whitewater Processing Company, an Ohio-based poultry farm, is also using a bioreactor water treatment system, specially designed by an Ohio State University researcher. It cost the company about $1 million to build — much cheaper than other possible treatment options.