As Earth Day marks its 40th anniversary, America’s pork producers are proud to be among the most environmentally conscious food producers in the world today. Just as they took steps in the 1980s and 1990s to protect the soil and water, today’s pork producers are leaders in assessing their carbon footprint to ensure that the food they raise supports the well-being of their animals, consumers and the environment.

“It’s worth noting that animal agriculture as a whole contributes a small part of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and pork production’s carbon footprint is a small fraction of this,” says Allan Stokes, director of environmental programs for the Pork Checkoff. “Pork producers also continue to identify areas where they can maintain the trend of producing more food using fewer resources.”

According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, only 2.8 percent of U.S. GHG emissions in 2007 came from animal agriculture. Pork production contributes even less--a mere one-third of one percent (0.33 percent) of total U.S. GHG emissions.

As the pork industry plays its part to feed an ever-growing world population, producers are working on a specific plan to better understand the pork industry’s carbon footprint. Through the Pork Checkoff, producers are funding research efforts at the University of Arkansas’ Applied Sustainability Center to identify and measure the overall carbon footprint of live swine production and understand its relationship to the overall pork supply chain.

“Pork producers are determined to understand this important area in order to better address challenges and capitalize on opportunities that make good environmental sense and are economically sustainable,” Stokes says.

Pork producers are already leaders on many environmental fronts, adds Stokes, who notes that: 

• Every pound of pork produced in the U.S. today has a smaller carbon footprint than it used to have. In fact, overall livestock-related GHG emissions in the U.S. have declined per unit of production. Since 1990, U.S. farmers increased meat production by almost 50 percent, milk production by 16 percent, and egg production by nearly 33 percent, according to a 2009 study by the American Meat Institute. The fact that GHG emissions from U.S. animal agriculture have remained relatively constant while protein production has dramatically increased reflects improved feed efficiencies, better manure-management strategies and efficient use of cropland.

• Pigs produce less GHG emissions than humans. In GHG emission terms, producing pork is easier on the environment than people are. According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 2007 report, in terms of waste handling, humans generate 2.65 percent of total GHG emissions just from municipal sewage treatment plants and solid-waste landfills. Meanwhile, pigs only create 0.3 percent in total.

• U.S. animal agriculture is very eco-friendly. A 2006 United Nation’s report concluded that about 74 percent of agricultural GHG emissions come from developing countries. The vast majority of global GHG emissions attributed to livestock production (reported to be 12 to 18 percent) results from deforestation and converting rain forests and other lands to grow crops or pasture. Such actions do not occur in the U.S., which has actually seen an increase in the total acreage of forested land over the last several decades -- even while total agricultural production has increased.

For more information on the U.S. pork industry’s carbon footprint, check out “Today’s Pork: An Eco-Friendly Choice.”