Just how big is the environmental footprint of the Canadian pork industry?

There are a lot of opinions but fewer facts when it comes time to try to answer that question. Filling in those blanks is the subject of an upcoming multi-year study by Mario Tenuta, a professor of applied soil ecology at the University of Manitoba, which he discussed at the Manitoba Livestock Expo December 12.

Why it matters: Manitoba is a leader in the pork industry and proving the sector’s environmental improvements can help maintain and secure market share.

Tenuta is spearheading an environmental footprint analysis (or EFA) of Canada’s pig production industry, slated to start in January. He is looking to mirror the Boyd and Cady “2012 US National Pork Board Environmental Footprint Analysis,” a similar study of the American hog industry that came out six years ago.

Tenuta explained that an EFA, in general, is a study designed to quantify the demand for natural resources required for some kind of human activity.

“In this project, the human activity is production of pigs and specifically marketing pigs,” said Tenuta. “It reveals the dependence of an activity on natural resources. This is critical because it allows us to understand how future changes to natural resources will impact the productivity and the production of pigs.”

He noted that these assessments can be done in scale at a farm level (useful obviously to a producer), but it can also be done at regional, national scale and even at the global scale.

An EFA can consider animal production only (known as “cradle to gate”) or it can consider the animal production all the way to the consumer and all the way to the waste (“cradle to grave”). The 2012 U.S. EFA used the cradle to gate analysis. That analysis compared data from 1959 to 2009 and showed some encouraging progress in the industry.

“There has been a tremendous improvement of production efficiencies in the U.S.,” said Tenuta.

The American study looked at indicators of natural resource use and production efficiencies and interestingly, they all improved except one: water use in the field, for irrigation (see figure 1 below).