As Canada’s egg industry continues to lower its environmental footprint, research and innovation are increasingly positioning eggs as a climate-smart food that will play an important role in helping to feed the world’s growing population.
Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) CEO Tim Lambert says consumers’ shift toward higher-quality nutritional choices with fewer processed foods and more fruit and vegetables in their diets has contributed to the growth in egg consumption in the last decade – Canadians now eat more than 250 eggs per person a year.
EFC’s role as a key player in food systems is being strengthened as egg farmers become increasingly focused on the industry’s impact on the environment and climate change. Consumers want to know more about where their food comes from and be confident that the industries producing food understand the importance of the environment and sustainability, says Mr. Lambert.
“Sustainability is central to our vision of how to grow our industry,” he adds.
As the most efficient form of animal protein in terms of impact on the environment, according to the Protein Scorecard developed by the World Resources Institute, eggs have a natural advantage, says Mr. Lambert, adding that the industry has already significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 72 per cent.
To maximize this natural advantage, EFC supports research chairs at four Canadian universities including Nathan Pelletier at the University of British Columbia, who is exploring ways to reduce the environmental impact of egg supply chains.
Dr. Pelletier, an ecological economist who also holds the prestigious Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Industrial Research Chair, led an environmental and social analysis to compare the egg industry’s environmental footprint in 1962 vs. 2012. This research had striking findings: over the 50-year span, there was a 50 per cent increase in egg production with a 50 per cent reduction in resources and a 50 per cent smaller environmental footprint.
Dr. Pelletier’s five-year NSERC-funded research, which includes projects by 10 masters and two PhD students, is focused on how that trajectory can be maintained.
This spring, he expects to rollout a lite version of the National Environmental Sustainability Tool (NEST) that will include benchmarking and indicators to provide information on how farmers across the country are currently performing in terms of resource efficiency indicators. The full version of NEST will provide the tools farmers need to measure their own farm’s environmental performance, compare that performance year over year, set goals and track progress, and compare performance benchmarks specific to their region.
While EFC supports programs to combat hunger in Canada, including breakfast programs at several schools, the industry is also aligned with global initiatives that will ultimately help feed the world’s growing population.
As the most efficient form of animal protein in terms of impact on the environment, according to the Protein Scorecard developed by the World Resources Institute, eggs have a natural advantage.— Tim Lambert Egg Farmers of Canada (EFC) CEO
The International Egg Commission (IEC), whose board Mr. Lambert chairs, supports the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), launched in 2015 to tackle the world’s economic, social and environmental issues.
“We brought that thinking into Egg Farmers of Canada, that we need to be champions of climate change,” he says.
EFC’s outlook reflects many of the SDGs objectives such as sustainable communities and climate action. Partnerships for sustainable development is also an area where the organization is actively involved, including collaborations with Canadian universities, its meetings with NGOs and its lead role in a sustainable egg farm in eSwatini (formerly known as Swaziland) to provide a protein source for a local orphanage and community.
Looking ahead, Mr. Lambert says the next frontier will be the application of precision agriculture technologies to the sector.
“Net-zero barns, recycling poultry manure into energy, repurposing inputs and finding ways to reuse them – a circular economy concept – is a big opportunity,” he says. “I think you’ll see advancements continuing in micronutrients and feed that help us minimize what goes back into the environment and improving the efficiency of the use of feed.”
He also believes Dr Pelletier’s work to develop benchmarks for the industry will have a major impact, enabling farmers to make better decisions.
EGGS BY THE NUMBERS
In addition to providing high-quality protein while reducing its environmental footprint, the Canadian egg industry is a major contributor to the country’s economy.
752 million dozen
The number of eggs produced by Canadian egg farmers in 2018.
The average number of eggs consumed per capita by Canadians in 2018 – an increase of 4.5 per cent over 2017.
50 per cent
The environmental footprint of Canada’s egg production supply chain declined by almost 50 per cent between 1962 and 2012, while egg production increased by 50 per cent.
The number of people the egg industry employs across Canada.
The egg industry’s contribution to the Canadian economy. It also contributes nearly half a billion dollars in revenue to federal and provincial governments every year.
Source: Egg Farmers of Canada
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.