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U.S. pork industry is committed to sustainable pig farming

September 29, 2022

A commitment to sustainability is more than just a responsible decision. It can also serve as a platform to showcase the time and resources an industry has invested in their efforts to cultivate change. Pig producers, farming operations, businesses and academics alike understand that without a plan to future-proof pork production, the availability of a safe and sustainable food system will wane. What role can pig farmers play to make sure this doesn’t happen?

The National Pork Board is continuing to set new sustainability goals to help ensure the future of pork production. Ashley McDonald, interim vice president of sustainability, shared more about those goals and how farmers can get on board during a virtual presentation at Alltech’s 2022 ONE Conference.

U.S. pork is part of the solution

The U.S. pork industry is working to establish itself as the sustainable protein, McDonald said. The industry’s sustainability success starts from the ground up and continues through production. The U.S. pork industry is only responsible for 0.4% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the U.S. Pork Industry 2021 Sustainability Report, released by The National Pork Board1. Pork producers have worked steadily to become more environmentally friendly, reducing the industry’s carbon footprint by 7.7% over the last 50 years2, according to data from The National Pork Board and the University of Arkansas.

With an extremely low impact on the environment due to the utilization of space and resources effectively, McDonald said this points directly towards a correlation effect of improved soil health. Being a steward of the land is important for pig producers, so the fact that these aspects go hand in hand only attributes further to the fact that sustainability is embedded in agriculture. U.S. pork producers utilize these avenues of successfully tending to their operations, efficiently using less physical land, water and feedstuffs, to provide a lean, quality, and affordable protein. Being diligent in the way that this protein is raised displays the importance of sustainable thinking and pig welfare.

"Environmental impact of pork"

What is sustainability to the U.S. pork industry?

As a leader in this space and a representative of many pork producers across the U.S., the National Pork Board has used its platform to amplify its “We Care Ethical Principles,” Which McDonald said are cornerstones of continuous growth:

  • Food Safety
  • Animal Well-being
  • Public Health
  • Environment
  • Our People
  • Our Community

By creating space for advancement within the industry, the National Pork Board truly values McDonald’s shared idea of “doing what’s right for pigs, people, and the planet,” ideas which have not only remained on paper. Pork producers took action and found ways to make measurable improvements. By utilizing less land, less water and less energy, and emitting fewer carbon emissions, it is clear that the pork industry values sustainable pig farming and being good stewards of the environment. 

The National Pork Board’s ethics principles are implemented daily by pig farmers who truly believe in their solid guidance. Dale Stevermer, a pig farmer and industry representative, believes that “The We Care ethical principles I practice on my fifth-generation farm address the environmental impact of raising pigs. Documenting and measuring this impact is important to demonstrate my farm’s sustainability role to those who purchase, process and, ultimately, consume pork.”

"Pork production efficiency"

Actions following the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

“Pig farmers got together and decided that they really wanted to contribute to and develop goals and metrics that were truly credible and important to people not only here, but around the world,” McDonald said. The National Pork Board aided in facilitating this idea to establish goals and metrics that build credibility for the industry. Those within the space understand how important these topics are for production, but for them to be accepted by the greater public, a better line of communication was needed to share this exciting information. The National Pork Board commissioned Ernst & Young alongside the Pork Checkoff to launch a producer-led goal-setting process, including an assessment of key market drivers, a prioritization of social issues, an identification of ambition surrounding sustainability and a draft of specific goals.

"Sustainable development goals"

It was crucial that these goals and metrics were fully supported and existed alongside the set principles already established. Pork producers wanted to be known for being champions of this space at the global level, as well in our own backyard. The We Care Ethical Principles line up closely with 15 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations, showcasing the fact that producers here in the U.S. strive to prioritize similar concepts with those around the globe.

A database for sustainability goals and metrics was launched to pull information for producers regarding their own operations in an On-Farm Sustainability Report, providing:

  • Analysis regarding their work in conservation practices,
  • Donations,
  • Service hours,
  • Manure utilization, and
  • Environmental impact of their operation and other metrics.

This creates a U.S. Pork Industry Sustainability Report to help answer questions about pork production and producers’ sustainability commitment. Understanding the true significance of this reporting system is crucial.

“The real power of the Your-Farm Sustainability Reports is the ability to aggregate the data and show the climate-positive impacts of using swine manure to raise crops,” Stevermer said. “Third-party verification through SEC (Sustainable Environmental Consultants) also supports the industry’s aspiration to produce the leading sustainable protein. Using sound data will guide pork producers as we set benchmarks and create improvement goals that will change the narrative around animal production.”

By acknowledging how imperative it is to pork producers that things are done the right way, pig farmers are raising the bar for animal agriculture in this space.

A commitment to doing what is right

Sharing the sustainability work being done in the industry allows pork producers to continue to shine the light on its commitment to people, pigs and the planet. Pork producers must continue to drive conversations and engagement using the real, on-farm data made available through the On-Farm Sustainability Report, McDonald said. Reporting progress and quantifying the substantial, continual progress toward sustainability displays how much pork producers want to improve the world we live in.

View the most recent sustainability report from the National Pork Board here:

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