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NPB: Tracking Pork’s Carbon Footprint

by 5m Editor
11 October 2010, at 10:32am

US - As part of the pork industry’s commitment to protecting the environment, pork producers are funding new research to identify and measure the overall carbon footprint of live swine production and to understand its relationship to the overall pork supply chain.

“The National Pork Board’s motivation for doing the Carbon Footprint Initiative was to help producers see where they could realize benefits from more efficient operations,“ said Allan Stokes, director of environmental programmes for the Pork Checkoff. “Also, this effort demonstrates producers’ commitment to doing the right thing, as outlined in the industry’s We Care initiative.“

The Pork Checkoff is funding research at the University of Arkansas Applied Sustainability Center, which has undertaken sustainability work for the dairy industry and major retailers such as Wal-Mart. Researchers first conducted an extensive literature review to study what is known about greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), globally, through all segments of the pork chain. Next, raw data were solicited from industry experts and publications, plus regionally specific data for crops and weather patterns.

This “scan level life-cycle analysis“ helped the research team summarize a carbon footprint analysis for a single 4-ounce, prepared serving of boneless pork. They evaluated GHG emissions across the entire pork production and delivery system, from feed crops in the field to cooking by the consumer and disposal of the packaging.

“The analysis helps us to understand the GHG contribution of live-hog production relative to other portions of the overall pork chain,“ Mr Stokes said.

The Checkoff is now working on a detailed life-cycle assessment that will identify the portion of GHG contributions based on the weight of hogs leaving the farm. As part of this, the Pork Checkoff is developing a user-friendly computer-based tool that will allow producers to get a detailed picture of their own farm’s GHG emission profile.

Pork producers will be able to use this tool to enter information specific to their farm, such as rations, manure management systems and types and sizes of animal housing. The tool will accommodate a variety of production systems, from confinement systems with lagoons or deep pits to production systems with pasture-raised pigs. The tool, which is being developed and refined with producer input, will generate a report for the producer’s use only.

“Since lowering GHG emissions usually means lowering energy use and resulting costs, this tool can serve as a road map to reducing input costs and improving bottom-line economic performance while also benefiting the environment,“ Mr Stokes said.