DES MOINES, Iowa.-- A new environmental sustainability study reveals that since 1959 the U.S. pork industry has logged a 35 percent decrease in its carbon footprint, and a 41 percent reduction in water usage. The results of the study were announced Wednesday at the World Pork Expo in Des Moines.

"The pork industry has been very successful in significantly reducing its environmental impact and use of natural resources by nearly 50 percent across the board," according to Garth Boyd, Ph.D., an environmental researcher and former university professor. It is a truly remarkable feat.” The study was funded by the pork checkoff.

The study also shows a 78 percent drop in land needed to produce a pound of pork. Everything affecting pork's footprint at the farm level was studied in the effort including feed, water, energy, land and crop-nutrient resources needed to produce pork.

"The study underscores just how much improvement farmers have made over the past half century," Boyd said.

Much of the gains in efficiency can be attributed to the continuous improvement farmers have made in both crop production and in the care they give their animals through better nutrition, health and overall management.

“Improvement in the sustainability of the pork industry is a significant factor that has gotten lost with the food companies that are not willing to scratch beneath the surface of the issue or look past an email campaign of an activist group,” said Chris Novak, chief executive officer for National Pork Board. “This sustainability issue is significant which we will share with food companies and consumers in the future.” 

"This study shows how farmers today can produce more pork with fewer resources than ever before," said Everett Forkner, a pork producer from Richards, Mo., and immediate past-president of the National Pork Board. "I'm not really surprised by this data as I've seen a lot of change on my own farm over the years as I've evaluated and implemented new technologies."

According to the study, when all of the findings on efficiency gains are totaled, the progress towards greater sustainability is clear with this example: Today's farms can produce 1,000 pounds of pork with only five pigs from breeding to market compared with eight pigs in 1959.

"As a pork producer, I'm proud of the accomplishments we've made as an industry," Forkner said. "But today's competitive market demands that we do even more to improve how we produce pork and I'm confident we can meet that challenge. We'll do it with more innovations, more Checkoff-funded research and our continued dedication to the We CareSM initiative's set of ethical principles."