The egg industry's carbon footprint today is 50% less than its step was in 1960, if not less than that, according to Dr. Hongwei Xin, a professor at Iowa State University and chair of the environmental scientific advisory committee for the United Egg Producers (UEP).
"This is a story that needs to be told," he said, speaking to an egg industry meeting at the International Production & Processing Expo in Atlanta, Ga., Jan. 31.
Xin led a life cycle analysis (LCA) of the egg industry's footprint for UEP, comparing egg production traits in 1960 and 2010 for hens housed in conventional cages.
He noted that there were 239 million hens in the country's egg-laying flock in 1960 and 282 million 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.
LCA is a cradle to gate examination of all direct and indirect inputs involved in, in this case, egg production, Xin explained. So, an egg operation needs feed, so the LCA needs to consider corn production, and if its 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 was based on books, government publications and other published resources, and the 2010 data was based on producer surveys, Xin said.
He reported that the LCA found that pullets produced in 2010 consumed 48% less feed consumption than they ate 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 they laid in 1960 and consumed 26% less feed, creating feed efficiency that was 42% better. There were 75% fewer discarded eggs and 57% less mortality, he said.
All measures of the 2010 footprint were lower than the 1960 footprint, Xin said. Indeed, to produce as many eggs as 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 April 16-17. Information on the forum is available at www.eggindustrycenter.org .