On the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, the pork industry is proud to be among one of the most environmentally conscious food production businesses in the world today, according to the National Pork Board.
From protecting soil and water in the 1980s and 1990s, today’s pork producers are leading the way in assessing their carbon footprint to provide food that supports animal well-being, consumers and the environment.
“It’s worth noting that animal agriculture as a whole contributes a small part of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and pork production’s carbon footprint is a small fraction of this,” says Allan Stokes, director of environmental programs for the Pork Checkoff. “Pork producers also continue to identify areas where they can maintain the trend of producing more food using fewer resources.”
Data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows only 2.8% of U.S. GHG emissions in 2007 came from animal agriculture. Pork production contributes far less at one-third of one percent (0.33%) of total U.S. GHG emissions.
Producer Pork Checkoff funding supports research at the University of Arkansas’ Applied Sustainability Center to identify and measure the overall carbon footprint of live swine production and understand its relationship to the overall pork supply chain.
“Pork producers are determined to understand this important area in order to better address challenges and capitalize on opportunities that make good environmental sense and are economically sustainable,” Stokes says.
Stokes cites three areas in which pork is already leading the way on many environmental fronts:
- Every pound of U.S. pork produced has a smaller carbon footprint than before, as have overall livestock-related GHG emissions. Since 1990, U.S. farmers increased meat production by almost 50%, milk production by 16% and egg production by nearly 33%, based on a 2009 study by the American Meat Institute. Despite dramatic growth in protein production during this time, GHG emissions from U.S. animal agriculture have remained relatively constant, reflecting improved feed efficiencies, manure management strategies and use of cropland.
- Pigs produce less GHG emissions than humans. In GHG emission terms, producing pork is easier on the environment than people are. EPA reported in 2007 that in terms of waste handling, humans generate 2.65% of total GHG emissions just from municipal sewage treatment plants and solid-waste landfills. Meanwhile, pigs only create 0.3% in total.
- U.S. animal agriculture is very eco-friendly. A United Nations report of 2006 concluded that about 74% of farm GHG emissions originate in developing countries and result mainly from deforestation efforts to convert forests and other lands to grow crops or pasture.
For more information on the U.S. pork industry’s carbon footprint, view “Today’s Pork: An Eco-Friendly Choice” at http://www.pork.org/documents/porkscience/carbonfootprint.pdf.