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January 9, 2019

US university study highlights pig farmers' efforts to improve sustainability



US pig farmers are producing pork in an "increasingly sustainable" manner for the past 50 years, the country's National Pork Board said, referring to a new study conducted by the University of Arkansas.


The study, called "A Retrospective Assessment of U.S. Pork Production: 1960 to 2015", claimed that inputs required to produce a pound of  pork in the US became more "environmentally friendly" over the years. This development was reflected in the amount of resources needed to support pig farming and pork production, specifically, in land (75.9% less), water (25.1% less) and energy (7.0% less). All these declines culminated in a carbon footprint of 7.7% smaller. 

Steve Rommereim, National Pork Board's president, said the study proves that pig producers are doing "what's best for people, pigs and the planet." These actions, according to Rommerein, is at the core of the sector's "We CareSM" ethical principles, and would help it to improve its "environmental stewardship."

A comprehensive life-cycle assessment approach was employed during the study, with the best available methodology being applied along with a field-to-farm gate approach. This meant including material and energy flows associated with the full supply chain, beginning with extraction of raw materials through production of live, market-weight pigs, including marketed sows.

The difference between the University of Arkansas research and other studies is  that the former considers the potential of global warming and the use of dried distillers grains in swine rations.

"This report's accurate methodology can clearly be seen when you see specific events, such as a sudden spike in mortality rates due to a national disease outbreak, a drought or a change in feed rations," said Dave Pyburn, senior vice president of science and technology for the Pork Checkoff.

"This level of accuracy offers a lot of transparency on a yearly basis as to what may negatively affect certain sustainability metrics and could help us find solutions to prevent or mitigate them in the future."

The National Pork Board believes the US pork sector will maintain progress in "overall efficiency," a catalyst for a higher level of sustainability "across all metrics." The progress would be seen "in terms of nutrition, genetics, health management, crop management" and "overall technology adoption."

The continuing move towards better efficiency and sustainability is clearly observed in the study, the National Pork Board said.

"Feed conversion (pounds of feed needed for pound of pork gained) started at 4.5 in 1960 and ended at 2.8 in 2015 - a 38% improvement even while market hog weights went from 200 pounds to 281 pounds during the same period."

"Consumers may be surprised at how much progress America's pig farmers have made in sustainability over the years," Rommereim commented. "We not only want them to know that we've got a good track record, but that we're not satisfied with the status quo. We plan to use the information to produce an even more sustainable product in the future."

In recent times, the National Pork Board had also signed a memorandum of understanding on improving sustainability with the United Soybean Board and the National Corn Growers Association. The organisations will jointly conduct research directly related to the environmental sustainability indicators of carbon (greenhouse gases), water use, land use, water quality and soil health.

The cooperation underlines the National Pork Board's recognition of feedstuffs as the largest component of "pork's sustainability footprint."

"It's important for us to look for partners who will collaborate with us to find new ways to make US pork even more sustainable in the years to come," said Brett Kaysen, the Pork Checkoff's assistant vice president of sustainability.

"We plan to build on the past decade of the We Care initiative by making its ethical principles more visible to the public. Our goal is to increase the understanding of the true commitment that America's pig farmers have to improving sustainability."

- National Pork Board

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