According to the results of a new study published in Poultry Science, the U.S. egg industry's introduction of new technologies and production practices over the last 50 years has resulted in a dramatic decrease in the industry's environmental footprint, even given today's higher levels of egg production.
The study quantified the environmental footprint of the U.S. egg industry's egg production supply chains in 2010 versus those in 1960. The researchers looked at changes in what they term "foreground" (e.g. hen performance) and "background" (e.g. fertilizer production) variables that contribute to the industry's environmental impact. Their findings provide strong validation for the effectiveness of modern egg production techniques in reducing the industry's impact on the environment.
On a per-kilogram of eggs produced basis, the environmental footprint of the U.S. egg industry in 2010, versus 1960, was:
- 71 percent lower in greenhouse gas emissions
- 71 percent lower in eutrophying emissions
- 65 percent lower in acidifying emissions
While table egg production was 30 percent higher in 2010 than 50 years prior, the study found that the same key environmental impact factors were still sharply lower in 2010, even on an absolute basis. Specifically, the U.S. egg industry in 2010, as compared with 1960, had a total environmental footprint that was:
- 63 percent lower in greenhouse gas emissions
- 63 percent lower in eutrophying emissions
- 54 percent lower in acidifying emissions
The researchers determined that improvements in three key areas were responsible for the above reductions: feed efficiency, feed composition, and manure management.
The study was conducted by researchers at Global Ecologic Environmental Consulting and Management Services and at the Egg Industry Center at Iowa State University. They have summarized their findings in an article appearing in the upcoming February issue of Poultry Science, a journal published by the Poultry Science Association (PSA).
"The advances in the egg industry that this work revealed were, from an ecological perspective, really extraordinary. In essence, we found that the industry can produce a dozen eggs today with one-third or less of the environmental impact it had 50 years ago," said Dr. Hongwei Xin, the corresponding author of the study and a professor at Iowa State University.
Life Cycle Assessment - Identifying Areas for Future Improvements
To quantify their comparisons, the researchers used an approach called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), an analytical framework for characterizing material and energy flows and emissions along product supply chains. The LCA methodology has been standardized by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
"One of LCA's key strengths, for our purposes, is that it facilitates the identification of opportunities for mitigating key drivers of different kinds of environmental impacts. Based on our LCA analysis, we believe that continued genetic improvement and improved management - of housing types, manure management, etc. - will enable the industry to continue reducing its impact on the environment," said Xin.Xin will be discussing some of the study's findings at an IPPE symposium, "Eggs and the World Food Challenge," on January 29 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.