By Denis Tremorin
Editor’s note: Denis Tremorin is the Director of Sustainability for Pulse Canada. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Canadian pulses are one of the world’s most sustainable crops – driven by the nitrogen-fixing capacity of pulses, as well as water and soil health benefits of including pulses in crop rotations. As feed production represents a significant portion of the carbon footprint of the livestock industry, using pulses in feed gives us the opportunity to lower the environmental impact of livestock production.
Pulse Canada wanted to highlight this opportunity to show pork producers and processors that pulses can help them reach their sustainability goals. That is why we commissioned a research project investigating the environmental impacts and benefits of including Canadian peas into animal feed rations for western Canadian pork. The findings were clear: through a change in hog rations toward a pea-based diet, producers can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 18 per cent.
The research investigated the environmental impacts and benefits of including Canadian peas by undergoing a life cycle assessment, guided by the International Organization for Standardization. Life cycle assessment is a science-based, internationally recognized tool for evaluating the relative potential environmental and human health impacts of products and services. The method can be used to identify opportunities to improve the environmental performance of products, inform decision-making, along with supporting marketing, communication and educational efforts.
The research was conducted by Groupe AGÉCO – a Canadian consultancy specializing in life cycle assessments of food and agricultural products – and was supported by a technical team of livestock researchers from western Canada. Through this study and others preceding it, the pulse industry has identified the use of pulses within livestock diets as an opportunity to reduce the environmental footprint of pork production systems, while also creating the potential to develop and market livestock products with low environmental footprints.
The findings of the study were substantial, demonstrating a 28 per cent reduction of GHG emissions in the feed production alone, lending to an overall 18 per cent reduction in the final product’s GHG emissions. The study looked at four environmental impact categories that were recognized to be significant areas of concerns in Canada:
- Climate change: Replacing wheat, barley, soymeal or any of the compared grain products by a pea-based feed allows a 28 per cent reduction of GHG emissions related to swine feed production.
- Water scarcity indicator: Including peas in swine feed production represents a benefit by reducing water use by 23 per cent.
- Land use and biodiversity: Changing standard rations to pea-based rations does not significantly affect the land use or biodiversity indicators.
This study demonstrates that the inclusion of Canadian peas into western Canadian hog rations has a strong potential to reduce the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from pork production. This reduction is largely driven by using peas to replace feed ingredients with a higher carbon footprint, such as wheat, barley, canola meal and soybean meal. The low-nitrogen fertilizer needs of peas is an important consideration that favours pulses over other crops from the perspective of combatting climate change.
As the global food system continues to explore how to reduce environmental impacts of food production, pulses have been shown to be a potential solution-provider, with benefits from both their production and consumption. In the case of livestock production, the inclusion of peas and other pulses should be considered as a potential strategy in reducing the GHG impacts of livestock production.