Modern agriculture is steadily reducing its environmental impact, but its progress alone is not enough to stop resource depletion.
Carlos Saviani, vice president of the World Wildlife Fund’s food team, said to protect their business and the planet, agricultural interests need to work together. Saviani, who leads the Washington-based global conservation organization’s sustainable meat and livestock initiative, spoke at April’s Egg Industry Center's Issues Forum.
Saviani commended the progress made by the global livestock industry at reducing the amount of resources used in the production of meat, dairy and eggs. Specifically for poultry, the industry made great strides between 1965 and 2010, reducing fossil energy use by about 40 percent, water depletion by about 50 percent and land occupation by about 70 percent.
But the industry must go must further to produce more food than the world ever has with scarcer resources. To feed the global population, Saviani said, the world’s farmers are using 1.6 times what the earth’s natural resources can continue to provide. By 2050, that amount will grow to 2 “earths,” he said.
Carlos Saviani, vice president of the World Wildlife Fund’s food team. | Terrence O'Keefe
A joint effort
Global food producers must pull together to freeze their environmental footprint. Saviani advocated for the formation of roundtable groups where representatives of companies, trade organizations, non-governmental interest groups and other parties can regularly meet with the objective of collectively adopting more sustainable business practices.
While there may be significant discord between large agribusinesses and small farmers who believe in organic or free-range practices, the two groups agree on more points than they dispute, Saviani said.
Most importantly, they share an interest in protecting the earth’s resources. The speaker cited numerous studies conducted by the world’s largest companies that estimated the value of commodities companies get for free – natural resources like fresh water – would be at least $72 trillion every year if they were required to pay for the same resources.
An egg roundtable in the U.S.
Based on models established by global groups dedicated to sustainable beef, fishing and aquaculture, Saviani suggested to the egg professionals that the country’s industry should form a roundtable group aimed at sustainability. The International Egg Commission, a London-based international cooperation body for the global egg industry, approved the creation of a Global Roundtable for Sustainable Eggs in September 2015.
Saviani said a U.S.-focused group should start off with a vision of creating a group that prioritizes social responsibility that is environmentally sound and economically viable. The global group focuses on continued development and improvement in sustainability across the egg value chain through multi-sector stakeholder engagement, collaboration, knowledge sharing, science and leadership. Membership should be open to everyone who is involved in the egg industry and sustainable egg production in order to maximize the diversity of experiences and ideas.
A roundtable group should be built around five pillars: protection of the environment and natural resources; production of safe and affordable, high-quality protein; promotion of the livelihoods people and the communities involved in egg production; animal health and welfare; and finding efficiency and innovation.
“The approach of the roundtable is to provide a set of foundations, and those foundations can be the defined principals and criteria,” Saviani said. “What is sustainability for eggs? What is the whole understanding of the industry? What is the formal understanding of the whole sector working with the stakeholder engagement? … What are the principals and criteria that are supporting this idea of sustainability?”
Saviani said sustainability is a constant goal and is more of a journey toward an ideal than it is completing a single goal. Therefore, roundtables shouldn’t provide certification for sustainable egg production, but rather encourage the development of specific indicators of sustainability.
The speaker was pleased with the progress U.S. producers are making toward the formation of a U.S. sustainable poultry roundtable. Saviani said the group’s formation was announced at the International Production & Processing Expo in Atlanta in January. He said Springdale, Arkansas, industry giant Tyson Foods Inc. is leading the group’s formation.