Comparison of the environmental footprint of the egg industry in the United States in 1960 and 2010

Pelletier, Nathan
Ibarburu, Maro
Xin, Hongwei
Xin, Hongwei
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Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

The US egg industry has evolved considerably over recent decades by incorporating new technologies and production practices. To date, there has been no comprehensive assessment of the resource demand and environmental effects of these changes. This study quantifies the environmental footprint of egg production supply chains in the United States for 2010 compared with 1960 using life cycle assessment. The analysis considers changes in both foreground (e.g., hen production performance) and background (e.g., efficiencies of energy provision, fertilizer production, production of feed inputs, and transport modes) system variables. The results revealed that feed efficiency, feed composition, and manure management are the 3 primary factors that determine the environmental impacts of US egg production. Further research and improvements in these areas will aid in continual reduction of the environmental footprint of the US egg industry over time. Per kilogram of eggs produced, the environmental footprint for 2010 is 65% lower in acidifying emissions, 71% lower in eutrophying emissions, 71% lower in greenhouse gas emissions, and 31% lower in cumulative energy demand compared with 1960. Table egg production was 30% higher in 2010; however, the total environmental footprint was 54% lower in acidifying emissions, 63% lower in eutrophying emissions, 63% lower in greenhouse gas emissions, and 13% lower in cumulative energy demand compared with 1960. Reductions in the environmental footprint over the 50-yr interval considered can be attributed to the following: 27 to 30% due to improved efficiencies of background systems, which outweighed the declining energy return on energy invested for primary energy sources; 30 to 44% due to changes in feed composition; and 28 to 43% due to improved bird performance.


This article is from Poultry Science 93 (2014): 241–255, doi:10.3382/ps.2013-03390. Posted with permission.