Canadian Poultry Magazine

Tracking poultry’s environmental footprint

By Lilian Schaer   

Features Emerging Trends Energy Week

The egg, chicken and, most recently, turkey sectors have all conducted lifecycle assessments to gauge the environmental impacts of their industries, including their energy consumption.

The egg, chicken and, most recently, turkey sectors have all conducted lifecycle assessments to gauge the environmental impacts of their industries. Photo: Chicken Farmers of Canada

The growing global focus for increased sustainability across all segments of the Canadian economy is making itself felt in the poultry industry as well. Canada’s poultry sectors have been using lifecycle assessment (LCA) reports to understand their environmental footprints and measure improvement – and the results are foundational to producers sharing their sustainability story with Canadian consumers. 

LCA is an assessment method regulated by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO 14040/14044). It helps establish how current practices contribute to carbon footprints and identifies areas where improvements can be made. 

Turkey Farmers of Canada (TFC) is the most recent national poultry group to have completed an LCA, with the report by Groupe AGÉCO released at the end of March. 


Benchmarking the turkey footprint
According to TFC executive director Phil Boyd, the organization had been contemplating an LCA for some time, driven by growing interest in environmental sustainability, carbon footprint and how this blends together with the economic viability of turkey farming. 

“One of the primary reasons we did this is that the consuming public in Canada is concerned with where food comes from and how it is produced – and we need to be able to answer those questions as well as meet that market need,” Boyd says, adding the organization was pleased with the high degree of engagement from its producers in participating in the project.  

Overall, the LCA showed the one kilogram of eviscerated turkey meat has a carbon footprint across the sector from input to processing of 3.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalents. The largest contributors to those emissions come from three areas: 

  • Feed: mostly corn, wheat and soybean meal and the energy and fertilizer used to grow these crops
  • Energy: electricity, heat and diesel fuel used on the farm
  • Waste management: landfilling of animal waste

When compared to older data, the report concluded that emissions have decreased by 10 per cent per kilogram of eviscerated turkey over the last decades, which Boyd attributes to better genetics and farm management and productivity improvements. 

“All of these contribute to reduction and from other similar studies that AGÉCO has done, our footprint is substantially lower than in other jurisdictions like the United Kingdom and the United States,” he says. “We’re happy to see this (result). It has given us a good benchmark and gives us direction to probe further. This is really driven by a genuine interest in the topic area.”

The TFC board will be delving into the details of the report over the coming months to determine next steps, he adds. 

Eggs leading the way
It was Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) that led the way on sustainability when it released the Canadian poultry industry’s first LCA in 2016. The study was conducted by Dr. Nathan Pelletier, Associate Professor in Biology and Management at the University of British Columbia and the NSERC/Egg Farmers of Canada Industrial Research Chair in Sustainability. 

His report found that although egg production increased by 50 per cent, the environmental footprint of Canadian egg production had been cut in half between 1962 and 2012. These findings laid the groundwork for EFC’s ongoing sustainability activities with producers, consumers, and government. 

In 2020, EFC released its first sustainability report outlining the sustainable growth of the egg industry. And just last year, EFC introduced the National Environmental Sustainability and Technology Tool (NESTT), an online tool for Canadian egg farmers to measure, monitor and manage their own farm’s environmental footprint and create action plans for improvement. 

Tracking progress
EFC is the first national group to update its LCA. The second egg industry LCA released in 2022 showed continued improvement across a variety of indicators, including a general decrease in input and emission levels across most housing systems and better resource use efficiency. 

According to Ian Turner, a PhD student in Pelletier’s lab who worked on the updated report, feed, water, and energy use, as well as the number of hens per ton of eggs produced, all decreased. 

“We did see a 30 per cent increase in eutrophying emissions in free-range housing systems, but the best explanation is that it was likely the product of a sampling error. It represents such a small population of Canadian egg production that if you’re not sampling the entire population, you can get volatile results,” Turner explains. 

And although the study results showed conventional cage housing to have the best environmental outcomes and free-range to have the lowest, Turner suggests much of that stems from how well farmers have been able to optimize cage-based production over the decades. This will evolve as the industry continues its transition away from caged housing and producers learn how to maximize new housing systems, he adds.

“In a follow-up study, we did find that if every farm in Canada was operating at the most efficient level that is currently observed by any single farm, the environmental impact of alternative systems can be just as low as conventional cages,” he says. “I would say there is potential for all the alternatives to be that low if they aren’t already.” 

Forty years of improvement
It was the original EFC report that inspired Chicken Farmers of Canada to launch its first LCA of the chicken value chain in 2017 to measure the environmental and social performance of Canadian chicken production.

The report found that the industry had made considerable environmental improvements between 1976 and 2016, including reducing its carbon footprint by 37 per cent, its water consumption by 45 per cent and its non-renewable energy consumption by 37 per cent. Farmers were producing more with less due to major productivity gains and a 20 per cent improvement in the feed conversion ratio of broiler chickens. 

The report found Canadian chicken production to have the lowest carbon footprint overall at 2.4 kilograms of CO2 equivalent compared to the average carbon footprint of global chicken producing regions. 

The study also highlighted a strong social performance for Canadian chicken farmers, with 100 per cent certified on food safety and animal care programs, over 90 per cent engaged in some kind of community involvement, over 90 per cent paying workers salaries above minimum wage and about 70 per cent offering workers additional benefits like health insurance or bonuses. 

According to CFC, the organization has used the report’s findings to develop an in-depth understanding of the environmental impacts of chicken farming, to inform research goals and funding, and to educate the entire sector as new initiatives are being developed.

CFC is committed to LCA updates every five years; the activity is part of the organization’s 2023-2025 strategic plan. 

At a Glance
Poultry’s sustainability performance

  • Turkey: 3.5 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of eviscerated turkey meat
    10 per cent decrease in emissions from turkey production
  • Eggs: 50 per cent increase in egg production with 50 per cent reduction in carbon footprint in last 50 years
  • Chicken: 2.4 kg CO2 equivalent per kg of chicken37 per cent lower carbon footprint, 45 per cent less water used,
    37 per cent lower non-renewable energy consumption in last 40 years

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