This article was written by Dr. Pedro Urriola, faculty member at the University of Minnesota, published on the National Hog Farmer website on October 14th, 2021.
Days started to be shorter and cooler as the fall season was upon us and with that came the Allen D. Leman Swine Conference and the Minnesota Nutrition Conference. This year, both conferences expanded discussions on the topic of environmental and business sustainability in the pork industry, among other relevant topics. Critical conversations are happening at public institutions, among investors, packers, retailers, and as consumers are demanding a reduction in the environmental impact of animal protein production. This reduction in the environmental footprint of pork production is a goal well understood and actively pursued by pork producers.
Pork production aligns with various of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which are: no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, industry, innovation and infrastructure, reduced inequalities, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production, climate action, life below water, life on land, peace, justice, and strong institutions, and partnerships for the goals.
Unquestionably, pork is instrumental for decreasing undernourishment by providing a wholesome source of essential amino acids (proteins) to people in developing countries. While typically less recognized, pork also can help manage healthy and adequate diets in developed countries. Therefore, pork continues to be among the most consumed meats globally and offers a palatable source of dietary proteins. Meeting the demand of the current generation without sacrificing the needs and expectations of the future ones is an imperative goal to which we all agree. However, food production contributes to the global greenhouse gas emissions. The exact extent of these contributions is debatable. Some sources estimate the contributions as high as 34% (Crippa et al., 2021) while other sources estimate that the agriculture sector contributes about 10%, right after transportation, electricity, and industry (EPA, 2021).
Pork producers and other farmers recognize that independent of the contributions, it is imperative that each economic sector contributes as part of the solution. Therefore, the focus of the above mentioned two conferences organized by the University of Minnesota was to offer a venue for debate on what has been done and how to further contribute.
Specifically, pork producers have developed a platform for industry sustainability in the We Care principles. Minnesota Pork Producers and the Minnesota Pork Board have taken action to “trust but verify.” Pork producers are sharing actual data on five principles of the We Care program: environment, food safety, animal well-being, our people, community, and public health.
Sustainability is a science and a practice that searches for paths to improve animal production, and it may change as new information becomes available. Likewise, goals and actions require alignment and using common language that will allow communicating effectively and unifying links between actions.
Nutrition can enable greater improvements towards environmental sustainability, and the 82nd Minnesota Nutrition Conference explored these opportunities. From birth to market, the most dominant factor (50-80%) on environmental impact of pork production is the feed consumed by pigs (Shurson, 2020). Life cycle analysis is a proven scientific method for assessing the footprint of animal protein production and the opportunities associated with it. The UN Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance (LEAP) and the Global Food LCA Institute (GFLI) allow recognition of the challenges and opportunities ahead. Integrated connectivity of feed for pigs, will allow the addition of diet formulation tools for development of low environmental footprint feeding programs (Tom Battagliese, BASF Animal Nutrition). Databases will be essential for agile and useful tools. Jamina Burek (University of Massachusetts) presented comparative formulation of low environmental vs. least cost diet formulation. Integration of animal biology, feed formulation, environmental footprint, and sustainable business decisions require mathematical modeling of the components and the interactions (Neil Ferguson, Trouw Nutrition).
In summary, producers and swine nutrition professionals have the responsibility of contributing to the goal of increasing sustainability of pork using the current framework of We Care Principles. However, these principles as well as other tools will continue to evolve through innovation and development of technologies that support the goal. For detailed and expanded information, review the presentations by visiting the conferences websites.
Crippa, M., Solazzo, E., Guizzardi, D. et al. Food systems are responsible for a third of global anthropogenic GHG emissions. Nat Food 2, 198–209 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-021-00225-9
Shurson, G. C. (2020). “What a Waste”—Can We Improve Sustainability of Food Animal Production Systems by Recycling Food Waste Streams into Animal Feed in an Era of Health, Climate, and Economic Crises? Sustainability, 12(17), 7071. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12177071