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Weekly Overview: Pig Industry of the Future: Evolution or Revolution?

11 November 2013

ANALYSIS - The sustainability of the industry is our focus this week, as a new report highlights how agri-food companies are genuinely trying to take care of the environment, not just using various schemes as a hollow marketing tool. New Danish research will focus on measure specifically for the pig industry, while a UK pig industry award winner has predicted a revolution in pig performance over the next decade.

Researchers for the European Commission have found that the adoption of the ISO 14000 environmental management programme is not just an environmental whitewash - or 'greenwash' - but reflects a move towards more sustainable practices in both European and North American companies.

ISO 14000 is designed to help reduce environmental impacts produced by manufacturing businesses and among those sectors that have the greatest impact on the environment is food production.

Global food production occupies 25 per cent of all habitable land and is responsible for 70 per cent of fresh water consumption, 80 per cent of deforestation and 30 per cent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Because of these impacts, the sector has to seek to make itself as efficient as possible.

Environmental management systems, such as ISO 14000 and the EU's EMAS1, are designed to provide a holistic approach towards reducing environmental impact, and the number of companies that are using these systems has increased rapidly in recent years.

It has been suggested that companies may use environmental management systems as 'greenwash' – that they might adopt these systems purely as a marketing tool, hoping to win over consumers and other players in the market without having to invest in underlying green practices.

However, according to the latest European Commission study, companies in the EU and North America that had made more effort to implement the ISO 14000 also invested more in Environmental Supply Chain Management (ESCM) - for example, on pollution reduction, recycling and waste reduction measures.

While the results do not rule out the possibility of these systems being used as greenwash, the authors suggest that, overall, ISO 14000 leads to genuine environmentally friendly investment.

They called for the research to be expanded to include other European countries and across Asia, and warned that the study only measured investment, suggesting that research is needed into how much environmental impacts are actually reduced.

Moving on to reducing the environmental impacts of pig production specifically, a new research project at Denmark's University of Aarhus aims to reduce odour problems and ammonia emissions for employees and the environment using the controlled extraction of air from the slurry channels on farms combined with biological treatment of the manure.

Also in the news, divisions have been sharply highlighted the last few weeks in a battle between top scientists over the safety of Genetically Modified (GM) crops and foods.

On the one hand, the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility has rejected claims by seed developers and some scientists and commentators that there is a scientific consensus on the safety of GM.

On the other hand, the Agricultural Biotechnology Council says that the overwhelming evidence points to the safety of these crops.

ThePigSite's editorial team was out and about last week. From a press conference in London, Chris Harris reported that Brazilian meat and food processing company, BRF, has given assurances that its primary pig operations are to remain in the company. The statement follows the sale of its beef fattening and slaughtering sector to fellow Brazilian processor, Minerva.

This year’s David Black Award for services to the British pig industry was presented to pig veterinarian, Pete Bown at an event in the House of Lords in London attended by Jackie Linden.

Mr Bown predicted that a revolution in performance is going to hit the pig industry over the next decade and said that this offers huge opportunities for the sector.

At the same event, Chairman of the British Pig Executive, Stewart Houston, was cautiously upbeat about the state of the UK pig industry. Falling short of mentioning the word "profit", he stated that the UK pig industry is again "making a margin" - a statement he said he has been unable to make for several years.

Jackie Linden

Jackie Linden

Top image via Shutterstock

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