DEFRA report critical of pig sector’s climate change progress

A new report from DEFRA says the English pig sector’s record on climate change has deteriorated in the past 10 years and at best remained unchanged in the past two years. And while BPEX recently claimed that a move away from soya to co-products was improving the situation, DEFRA’s view is that this is having a detrimental effect on feed conversion ratio (FCR) and making the sector less efficient.

The report, Agricultural Statistics and Climate Change, is now in its fifth edtion and it’s purpose is to brings together existing statistics on agriculture in order to help inform the understanding of the link between agricultural practices and greenhouse gas emissions. It summarises available statistics that relate directly and indirectly to emissions and links to statistics on farmer attitudes to climate change mitigation and uptake of mitigation measures.

The DEFRA report uses FCR as the specific indicator for the pig sector and considers it a proxy measure for on-farm greenhouse gas emissions. It says that following improvements during the early 1990s, the FCR for the pig fattening herd has deteriorated, albeit with some fluctuations, particularly in recent years.

“This would imply a reduction in feed efficiency and increased emissions intensity,” the report says, “however, achieving and maintaining heavier weights, relative changes in production systems and disease could be explanatory factors.

“Its also not possible within this measure to reflect changes in the type of feed used (such increasing use of feed sourced from co-products) which may have a bearing on the emissions intensity of production. Since 2010 there has been some improvement in the FCR, although with the fluctuations. It is too early to tell if this is a change to the longer term trend.”

The DEFRA report’s assessment for the pig sector is that there has been a clear deterioration as far as contribution to climate change is concerned in the long term (past 10 years) and little or no change in the short term (past two years).

The report comes six months after BPEX claimed emissions of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and so on) were 26% lower in 2012 than the benchmark year of 2008 when its Positive Progress update on the BPEX roadmap for the environmental sustainability of the English pig industry was launched by Farming Minister George Eustice in January.

BPEX’s Nigel Penlington told Pig World that the two reports’ opinions differed because the proxy measure chosen by DEFRA for the pig sector was too simplistic to be used for a biological system.

“The BPEX report was a detailed scientific study compiled using precise data,” he said, “while the DEFRA report relies on FCR to judge the industry.

“While FCR may have deteriorated, the DEFRA report takes no account of the vast savings in greenhouse gas emissions that have been made by reducing our reliance on imported soya.”

Mr Penlington added that BPEX was engaging with the Government’s climate change committee to try and alter the way greenhouse gas emissions from the pig sector were measured to provide a more accurate picture.

The DEFRA report can be downloaded from the link below.

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