Many people condemn the so-called “Green Lobby” for its misinformed attacks on the pig industry. I think its long-running onslaught against pig farming has had the unintended consequence of making this sector more efficient and productive.
A focus on the environment forced pig producers everywhere to reduce carbon emissions, handle manure effectively, become more aware of pollution and water run-off – all this has led to the industry becoming more efficient and productive.
Greener pig production
In the United States, for example, a recent Pork Checkoff study found that pork production nearly doubled during the past 50 years. In spite of a 35 percent reduction in the industry’s carbon footprint, a 41 percent drop in water usage and a 78 percent fall for land needed to produce 1,000 pounds of pork.
US pig farmers are already earning praise for their on-going initiatives to reduce the impact of pig production on the environment, which have resulted in more acceptable pig farming and higher productivity.
In 2011, the National Pork Board provided producers with a tool to help them calculate their carbon footprint. This year, it released a water footprint tool and then it will work on one for air emissions, such as dust ammonia and hydrogen sulphide in 2013. The fourth tool for land usage is scheduled for 2014.
“Farmers here are very keen on lowering input costs, especially if it will help them improve productivity and become better neighbors in the eyes of the public,” said Allan Stokes, director of environmental programs at the National Pork Board.
In Canada, the focus is on manure and the Canadian Pork Council is leading the way with new methods to handle and treat slurry to reduce odors and run-off that could pollute water sources. It is also busy working with pig producers to develop novel feeding strategies to decrease the amount of phosphate in the slurry without affecting production.
The next challenge for Canadian producers is to tackle life-cycle assessments together with carbon footprints to satisfy both the needs of the environment and growing demands for these records from pork importers, such as Japan and Korea.
The good thing is that both these countries are prepared to share the work they have done to reduce the impact of pig farming on the environment. They have linked up with the International Meat Secretariat’s global initiative – a group of more than 16 pig-producing nations that are committed to efficiently produce high-quality protein, and reduce the impact on the environment.
The constant demand for higher production, while reducing the industry’s impact on the environment is also placing a renewed emphasis on pig genetics.
Chris Jackson, who travels the world promoting pedigree lines preserved by the British Pig Association, believes that if the industry does not devote more attention on the genetic development of pigs (“we should stop calling it genetic manipulation, or GM,” he says), there will be production problems in the developed world and developing nations.
He points out that genetic development takes longer than GM, so the industry needs to get on with it as soon as possible. Pig farmers are looking for particular traits and qualities found in commercial lines. However, an increasing number are also looking for pigs that provide top quality special cuts to satisfy niche markets.
This could be another area where the international pig industry could collaborate to develop new lines. Breeders, feed suppliers, abattoirs and processors could contribute and help share scare resources.
“The world needs more food and we need to be able to produce what consumers want and then get it to the market as quickly and as efficiently as possible,” said Jackson. “But, we need to stop talking and get on with it.”