The Egg's Global Footprint: Searching for True Sustainability in Global Egg Production
The Egg’s Global Footprint
Searching for True Sustainability in Global Egg Production
By Dr. Giovanni Gasperoni with Erik Dahl
Published April, 2011
Around the world, there has been a movement towards organic, local and traditional foods. You
might expect that the shoppers at Whole Foods, filling their baskets with organically produced
food, are our brightest hope for achieving a sustainable planet. While it may seem comforting
to believe that organically produced food can help mitigate environmental damage and help
shift the world towards a more sustainable food system, that belief is not correct when it comes
to eggs. Studies around the world have found that organic and free-range eggs have a larger
carbon footprint than eggs produced in a cage system, due primarily to lower productivity and
higher feed consumption.
How to make all agriculture more sustainable is the most important question for farmers and
consumers, not the more limited issue of whether organic food is better or worse for the
True long-term sustainability, in the words of World Wildlife Fund expert
Jason Clay, means looking beyond “organic” marketing claims and
“figuring out how to produce more with less land, less water and less
pollution, so we won’t be the only species left living on this planet.”
Making egg production more sustainable should start with feed and the feed conversion rate.
Feed accounts for 76 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and 92 percent of the ecological
footprint associated with the poultry industry. Much of this environmental impact is due to the
use of chemical fertilizer, which is notably absent from the production of organic poultry feed.
However, even though organic layers eat feed that is much less energy-intensive, they consume
more feed overall and produce fewer eggs than their non-organic counterparts. How do we
weigh the pros and cons of organic feed production (more environmentally friendly feed, but also
a larger quantity required) against industrial production (less environmentally friendly feed, but a
lower quantity required)?
Life Cycle Assessment
Scientists have come up with a solution called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA is the most
holistic method of evaluating the environmental cost of a product or industry over a period of
anywhere from 50 years to 500 years. This approach is effective because it looks beyond the
direct environmental impact of an activity, and takes into account damage caused by interrelated
Consider your car, for example.
A Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) does much more than just measure tailpipe emissions.
It also estimates how much pollution was generated in order to:
Drill for oil, refine Manufacture the
it into gasoline and steel that went
ship it to your town into your car
Produce the tires
on your car
Applying Life Cycle Assessment to Agriculture
For agriculture, an LCA takes into account resource use, like land or fossil fuels; emission of pollutants, such
as ammonia or methane; and the resource use of supporting activity, like transportation and farm equipment.
For poultry, lower bird performance overrides the benefits of organic feed (Williams, Audsley and Sandars,
2006). Shifting U.S. egg production to organic methods would increase the industry’s carbon footprint by 33.3
percent (a carbon footprint equivalent to putting 1.4 million additional cars on the road for one year), while
energy use would rise by 15 percent (equivalent to 1.9 million barrels of oil per year).
As the world population continues to grow and as diets in the emerging world increasingly resemble those
in the developed world, identifying environmentally friendly livestock products and adopting sustainable
production methods take on truly global implications. What might have been sustainable for a world with
6 billion people probably would not be sustainable for a world population of more than 9 billion. To get the
world back on a more sustainable footing will require greater intensification of agriculture through more
efficient production systems.
Over the last 40 years, huge gains were made in addressing global food shortages and malnutrition. From
1970 to 2000, global daily caloric intake per capita increased from 2,400 to 2,790 calories, and is projected to
rise to 3,150 calories by 2050 (FAO, 2006). Rising incomes and changing consumer preferences over the next
four decades will require livestock production to double.
The challenge will be to expand egg production, while freezing the industry’s overall footprint and protecting
the planet’s biodiversity and ecosystems. Agricultural intensification offers a pathway for conserving
biological diversity, and reducing the industry’s environmental footprint.
FEED: THE LEADING SOURCE OF GREENHOUSE GASSES
By 2050, meat production in emerging countries is expected to more than double to nearly 350
million tons, while meat production in developed countries will rise by 50 percent to around 150
million tons (Steinfeld, p. 15).
The challenge of identifying and adopting environmentally friendly livestock production methods
takes on increased urgency in light of the global implications of continued world population
growth and the convergence of diets in the emerging world with those of the developed world.
Mounting concern regarding human-caused climate change and growing consumer awareness
of the industry’s environmental footprint have created demand for more environmentally friendly
livestock products. It is important that both consumers and producers are aware of the actual
impact of different production methods.
The LCA is the first step in measuring the environmental impact of livestock. It inventories all
materials, energy inputs and emissions associated with each stage of a product life cycle, and
then measures the total environmental cost of that product over an appropriately defined period
of time. Several LCA studies on livestock products have identified feed as the largest source of
greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the poultry supply chain.
Feed accounts for 80 percent of energy use, 76 percent of greenhouse gas
emissions and 92 percent of the ecological footprint of the broiler supply
chain in the U.S., from cradle to farm gate. 1
Hatchery In-barn Litter
Chicks Energy Use Management
Energy use 80% 2% 18% <1%
GHG Em. (kg CO2 equivalent) 76% <1% 12% 12%
Ecological footprint (m2) 92% 1% 3% 4%
Source: Pelletier, 2008.
FEED: THE LEADING SOURCE OF GREENHOUSE GASSES
Fertilizer production is the largest single contributor to energy use in feed crop production
(Pelletier, 2008). It accounts for about one-third of the fossil fuels used to produce feed (Steinfeld,
p. 86 and p. 88). Organic feed does not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, and organic animal
products generally require less energy than their non-organic counterparts. However, eggs and
poultry are exceptions to this rule, due to the non-organic sector’s overall efficiency and high
feed conversion rate. A cage system produces 23.6 percent more eggs per kilogram (kg) of feed,
thanks to a combination of lower feed input and higher egg output. Consequently, organic egg
production uses 15 percent more energy and has a carbon footprint 33 percent larger than caged
production. Simply put, the higher bird performance of non-organic production overrides the
lower energy needs of organic feed (Williams, Audsley and Sandars, 2006).
Comparison burdens of production in some alternative egg production
systems (per 20,000 eggs) 2
100% Cage, 100% Free-range,
Impacts and Resources Used Non-organic Organic
Primary energy used (MJ) 14,100 16,100 13,600 15,400
5,530 7,000 5,250 6,180
(kg 100 year CO2 equivalent)
Egg production data used in the LCA model 2
Free-range Organic Free-range
Barn Eggs Housed Layers
Eggs (number per layer) 289 262 288 295
Layer feed (kg) 49.3 49.3 47.8 44.9
Mortality 0.08 0.08 0.07 0.05
Manure deposited indoors
44.4 44.4 50.5 50.5
(kg head-1 year-1)
Methane (kg/head) 0.03 0.03 0.03 0.03
Ammonia (kg/head) 0.22 0.22 0.25 0.2
Nitrous oxide (g/head) 15.1 15.1 15.1 10.8
Source: Williams, Audsley and Sandars, 2006.
QUANTIFYING THE COST OF ORGANIC PRODUCTION
If the U.S. egg industry were to become 100 percent organic, how would
that affect the environment and alter the industry’s carbon footprint?
The United States produced about
5.3 million metric tons of eggs in 2007 .
Shifting from 100 percent cage/non-organic layer production to organic production
would require the U.S. egg industry to increase its layer flock by 13 percent and
increase feed consumption by 24 percent4. This shift would:
Increase energy consumption by an additional Increase the industry’s Global Warming
11.3 billion megajoules (MJ). A barrel of oil Potential (GWP) by 33.3 percent, or
contains about 6,000 MJ of energy. 7.9 million tons of CO2.
This increase would be equivalent to depleting This increase would be equivalent to putting
an additional 1.9 million barrels of oil. 1.4 million more cars on the road.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Based on estimates from Williams et al.
A M O R E S U S TA I N A B L E E G G I N D U S T R Y
How to make all agriculture more sustainable is therefore the most important question for farmers and
consumers, not the more limited question of whether organic food is better or worse for the environment.
Industrialization and intensification of egg production results in more eggs and requires less feed,
less energy and fewer resources than organic methods. Even though housed layers have a smaller
carbon footprint than organic layers, there is still room for improvement. Feed is the largest source of
greenhouse gasses, and organic feeds have lower energy needs than non-organic feeds. Using less
energy-intensive feed could be a “best practice” for the industry to consider.
Impact in the Emerging World Per Capita Egg Production Now
(in kilograms of hen eggs) Potential
The true implications of industrialization and
intensification will be felt in the emerging world, China
which already accounts for about 70 percent of world Brazil
egg production5. By utilizing existing best practices, World Average
emerging countries could boost bird productivity by
about 70 percent. Bringing the emerging world up to
the developed world’s productivity levels would boost
world egg production by 48 percent without adding a Africa
single bird. 0 5 10 15 20 25 30
World Egg Production Egg Production Per Layer
(in metric tons) (in kilograms of hen eggs)
50,000,000 Emerging Emerging 8.0
10,000,000 Developed Developed 0
0 World Emerging Developed
Now Potential Average Countries Countries
Over the next 40 years, rising incomes and changing consumer preferences will cause livestock products
to increase from 17 percent of food energy to 30 percent, requiring that meat production double from 2001
levels. GHG emissions per unit of production would need to be cut in half for the industry to simply maintain
its current level of GWP (Pelletier, 2008). Although there is still much work to be done, intensified production
shows how the world can produce more eggs with less land, less feed and less energy than any other
production technology. Intensified production may not be organic, but it is sustainable—which is the wiser,
long-term choice for the planet.
Australia, Europe, Japan, New Zealand and North America combined account for 29.8% of world hen
egg production by weight and 27.0% by number of eggs with only 20% of layers, according to FAOSTAT. 6
Dr. Giovanni Gasperoni
Executive Vice President, Marketing and Sales, Novus International, Inc.
Dr. Giovanni Gasperoni is Executive Vice
President, Marketing and Sales for Novus
International, Inc., a global health and
nutrition company with annual sales of
nearly $1 billion. Novus, headquartered in
metropolitan St. Louis, Missouri, is a privately
held company, jointly owned by Mitsui & Co.
(U.S.A.), Inc. and Nippon Soda Co., Ltd.
In the past ten years, Dr. Gasperoni has played
a key role in extending the Novus product
portfolio into new areas—including strategic
nutrition, gut health and feed quality—and expanding the Novus product line from three core
products in the poultry market to more than 100 products in different markets, including beef,
dairy, pork and aquaculture.
A native of Italy, Dr. Gasperoni graduated cum laude from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine,
University of Bologna. He began his career as a marketing consultant for Monsanto Europe.
In that capacity, he conducted an analysis of the methionine market in Italy, which led to a
full-time position with Monsanto as Manager, Counter Trade. As a manager for Monsanto,
he coordinated a project that led to the commercialization of a new Defluorinated Phosphate
(DFP) feed-grade phosphate in the former Soviet Union.
Dr. Gasperoni joined Novus in 1994 as Director, Worldwide Technical Organization, relocating
to the company’s global headquarters in St. Louis. He was named Director, Antioxidants
Business in 2000, responsible for the global marketing and sales of all antioxidant products.
Under his leadership, the Antioxidants Business developed and secured new partnerships
with suppliers in Korea and China, and developed a new product line of natural antioxidants
for use in animal feed.
Dr. Gasperoni became the head of Marketing and Sales for Novus in 2001, leading the effort
to build a direct sales organization in Asia. He was appointed Vice President, Marketing and
Sales in 2002. Five years later, he formally assumed the position of Executive Vice President,
Marketing and Sales.
Dr. Gasperoni is fluent in five languages: English, Italian, Spanish, French and Portuguese. He
frequently speaks at conferences and events around the world on a variety of topics related
to future trends in animal agriculture.
de Vries, M., & de Boer, I. (2009). Comparing Environmental Impacts for Livestock Products: A Review of Life Cycle
Assessments. Livestock Science.
FAO. (2006). World Agriculture Towards 2030-2050. Prospects for Food, Nutrition, Agriculture and Major Commodity Groups.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.
Katajajuuri, J. (2008). Experiences and Improvement Possibilities—LCA Case Study of Broiler Chicken Production. Zurich.
Matson, P. Vitousek, P. (2006). Agricultural Intensification: Will land spared from farming be land spared for nature?
Conservation Biology Volume 20, No. 3, 709-710.
Pelletier, N., (2008). Environmental Performance in the U.S. Broiler Poultry Sector: Life cycle energy use and greenhouse gas,
ozone depleting, acidifying and eutrophying emissions. Agricultural Systems 98, 67–73.
Pimentel D., Williamson S., Alexander C., Gonzalez-Pagan O., Kontak C. and Mulkey S. (2008). Reducing Energy Inputs in the
U.S. Food System. Human Ecology 36: 459-471.
Steinfeld, H., Gerber, P., Wasssenaar, T., Castel, V., Rosales, M. and de Haan, C. (2006). Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental
Issues and Options. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.
Williams, A.G., Audsley, E. and Sandars, D.L. (2006). Determining the Environmental Burdens and Resource Use in the
Production of Agricultural and Horticultural Commodities. Main Report. Defra Research Project IS0205. Bedford: Cranfield
University and Defra. Available on: www.silsoe.cranfield.ac.uk and www.defra.gov.uk
CONVERSIONS AND SOURCES
Hectares to Square Miles: One hectare = 0.0038610216 square miles
• One barrel of oil = six gigajoules or 6,000 megajoules
(Source: Bioenergy Feedstock Development Programs at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory;
• Car emissions: One U.S. automobile emits 12,000 pounds of CO2 per year
(Source: Environmental Defense Fund; http://www.edf.org/article.cfm?ContentID=6083)
C O N TA C T U S
If you have comments on this white paper or would like further Novus International, Inc.
information about sustainability in global egg production, please Attn: Tricia Beal
contact the Novus Sustainability team by sending an email to 20 Research Park Drive
email@example.com or send a request in writing to the St. Charles, MO 63304
address on the right. United States of America
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