Life-cycle assessment finds modern egg production practices have reduced industry's environmental impact over last 50 years.
ACCORDING to the results of a new study, the introduction of new technologies and production practices in the U.S. egg industry 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.
The findings provide "strong validation" for the effectiveness of modern egg production techniques in reducing the industry's impact on the environment, an announcement said.
On a per-kilogram of eggs produced basis, the U.S. egg industry's environmental footprint in 2010 versus 1960 was:
* 71% lower in greenhouse gas emissions;
* 71% lower in eutrophying emissions, and
* 65% lower in acidifying emissions.
While table egg production was 30% 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, compared to 1960, the U.S. egg industry in 2010 had a total environmental footprint that was:
* 63% lower in greenhouse gas emissions;
* 63% lower in eutrophying emissions, and
* 54% lower in acidifying emissions.
The researchers determined that improvements in three key areas were responsible for those listed reductions: feed efficiency, feed composition and manure management.
The study was conducted by researchers at Global Ecologic Environmental Consulting & Management Services and at the Iowa State University Egg Industry Center. The findings are summarized in an article in the February issue of Poultry Science, a journal published by the Poultry Science Assn.
"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.
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.
"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," Xin said.