Welfare metrics help optimize egg production sustainability

A new approach to life cycle analysis that integrates animal welfare metrics into sustainability guidelines could help egg producers evaluate their options during the transition to cage-free housing.

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Choat Boonyakiat | Fotolia.com
Choat Boonyakiat | Fotolia.com
A new approach to life cycle analysis that integrates animal welfare metrics into  sustainability guidelines  could help egg producers evaluate their options during the  transition to cage-free housing.
“Life cycle analysis (LCA) is used to assess the cumulative impact of a product throughout its entire life cycle, meaning it looks at the environmental impact associated with every step along the supply chain from raw material extraction to the end-of-life disposal and management,” Ian Turner, a Ph.D. student at the  University of British Columbia,  explained at the  2021 Virtual Egg Industries Forum.
Unlike a carbon footprint, life cycle analysis is a multi-criteria methodology. A carbon footprint only measures greenhouse gas emissions. LCA, on the other hand, often includes greenhouse gas emissions, as well as factors that contribute to water acidification, the ozone layer and more.
“Globally, LCA will continue to be a useful tool for the egg industry, particularly for those that are undergoing transitions away from conventional caged production,” Turner added.

More than just environmental impact

The term sustainability is has transformed into more than just the environmental impact of a product. It now also encompasses  animal welfare, social and other issues.
“It’s generally accepted that sustainability is a multi-faceted concept that takes into account environmental, economic and social components. So, while a cage-free system might fare well in the environmental facets of sustainability compared to others, it may face challenges in the other two components,” said Turner.
Approaches within life cycle analysis can incorporate the social or economic impact of a process. However, no approach, until now, also analyzed the animal welfare impact of egg production.

Adding in animal welfare

Turner’s research focuses on the development of a life cycle analysis framework that integrates animal welfare impact, as well as environmental and social factors.
First, he had to define animal welfare.
“We quickly came to the conclusion that there are many different definitions of animal welfare in scientific literature,” he said. “We choose the definition of welfare proposed by David Frasier. This defines welfare as having three components, namely biological health, behavior and affective state.”
Once integrated, the researchers tested the framework with a case study of the Canadian egg industry.
“This showed that our approach is a significant step forward over previous attempts to integrate animal welfare into the LCA framework,” Turner noted. “By integrating animal welfare assessment into the LCA framework, we’re further expanding the LCA toolkit into a more holistic sustainability tool that will allow farmers to make more informed decisions.”
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