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Pork’s Footprint from Farm to Fork

by 5m Editor
13 May 2011, at 10:35am

DENMARK - The ecological footprint of Danish pork production has been calculated by scientists from Aarhus University and published in a new report.


Scientists from Aarhus University have calculated the environmental impact of pork production from farm to fork. [Photo: Janne Hansen]

How big is the global footprint left by a pork chop? Finding the answer to this is no simple affair, but scientists from the Department of Agroecology and Environment at Aarhus University have nonetheless addressed the question of how much impact pork production has on the environment and come up with interesting figures. Their results have been published in a new report from the department.

In their calculations the scientists included as many factors as possible to ascertain the environmental impact of pork production all the way from farm to fork. When all factors are included the chain from farm to fork is convoluted and must take many aspects into account.

The calculations are based on Danish pig farm conditions which means that a large portion of the feed ingredients is imported to the farm. Feed import adds to the environmental impact due to both production and transportation. Conversely, Danish pig production has a high level of efficiency which means that the feed is put to good use and produces a large amount of meat per feed input.

The output from pig farms is more than pork. Manure is an important by-product of pig production. On the negative side, manure is a source of undesired emissions of e.g. methane, nitrous oxide, ammonia, nitrate and phosphate. They add to the environmental impact in different ways. For example, methane and nitrous oxide contribute to global warming, ammonia to acidification and nitrate, phosphate and ammonia to eutrophication. On the positive side, however, manure is considered a valuable source of nutrients which means that its application to fields saves farmers from importing fertilizers, thus avoiding the environmental impacts associated with commercial fertilizer production and application.

All in all, the factors contributing to the environmental impact are feed use, feed transportation, on-farm energy use, on-farm emissions and manure use. Credits for the displaced or avoided production and application of commercial fertilizer are assigned to the environmental profile of manure application.

The contributing factors impact the environment in various ways, which the scientists broke down into global warming, acidification, eutrophication, non-renewable energy, and land use.

The report contains detailed tables showing the results of the calculations based on average Danish pig farms in 2010 and on the 25 per cent most efficient pig farms. Comparisons between the average farms and the efficient farms show that there is good potential for improvement.

The scientists collaborated with the Danish Agriculture & Food Council.

Further Reading

- You can view the full report by clicking here.