THE egg industry's carbon footprint today is 50% less than the size of its step in 1960, if not less than that, according to Dr. Hongwei Xin, an agriculture and biosystems engineer at Iowa State University and chair of the environmental scientific advisory committee of the United Egg Producers (UEP).
"This is a story that needs to be told," he told an egg industry meeting at the International Production & Processing Expo in Atlanta, Ga., last month.
Xin led a life-cycle analysis (LCA) of the egg industry's footprint for UEP that compared egg production traits in 1960 and 2010 for hens housed in cages.
He noted that there were 239 million hens in the country's egg-laying flock in 1960 versus 282 million hens in the flock in 2010, while the U.S. population doubled over those 50 years. Accordingly, "we are feeding twice as many people today with just 18% more hens," he said.
An LCA is a cradle-to-gate examination of all direct and indirect inputs involved in, in this case, egg production, Xin explained. Since an egg operation needs feed, the LCA needs to consider corn production, and if it needs to consider corn production, it needs to consider fertilizer use and so on (indirect inputs).
If it has feed, it needs hens, and if it has hens, it needs egg processing plants and so on (more direct inputs).
The 1960 data were based on books, government publications and other published resources, and the 2010 data were based on producer surveys, Xin said.
He reported that the LCA found that pullets produced in 2010 consumed 48% less feed than in 1960, incurred 70% less mortality and weighed 30% less.
He said hens -- as measured by egg production per 100 hens per day -- laid 27% more eggs in 2010 than in 1960 and consumed 26% less feed, creating 42% better feed efficiency. There were 75% fewer discarded eggs and a 57% lower mortality rate, he said.
All measures of the 2010 footprint were lower than the 1960 footprint, Xin said. Indeed, to produce the number of eggs that are produced today, 1960 production would have required 27% more hens, 78% more acres of corn and 69% more acres of soybeans, he said.
Xin said the results of the study are preliminary, and he plans to deliver final numbers to the Egg Industry Issues Forum in St. Louis, Mo., April 16-17. Information about the forum is available at www.eggindustrycenter.org.
Additional information on improvements to agriculture's environmental sustainability is available at www.FeedstuffsFoodLink.com.