The modern food industry has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years regarding the inputs and processes used in bringing safe and wholesome food to our dinner tables. There is great focus on environmental performance in the production of pork. The reason is that Denmark has had a long tradition for focusing on sustainable production.

As a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, the livestock industry has been singled out for special attention in the environmental debate, and has come under growing pressure to demonstrate its commitment to reducing its environmental impact and moving to more sustainable production methods.

The Danish pig industry has been subject to some of the strictest environmental legislation in Europe since the mid-1980s. These rules have included fixed limits on the number of animals that may be kept in relation to the land available for the spreading of manure and slurries, as well as detailed rules on its storage and application in the fields.

All building of new pig housing or refurbishment of existing facilities are subject to approval from the relevant local authorities and a series of strict rules are applied, including targets for reduction of ammonia emissions and odour concentration, and proximity to ‘sensitive’ natural areas and both rural and urban dwellings are also taken into account.

These regulations have placed a significant burden on the Danish pig industry and undoubtedly undermined its competitiveness against other EU producers. It is now widely accepted that these rigid rules have created an imbalance in the structure of pig production in Denmark by discouraging new investments in pig finishing capacity. This has led to a significant increase in exports of piglets to other EU markets, especially Germany and Poland.

DAFC is hopeful that there is now better appreciation of the difficulties that have arisen. The Danish government has committed to introduce more flexible and targeted regulation, which will both meet the objective of lowering emissions, but also encourage much needed investments to modernise pig finishing in Denmark. They have already agreed to raise the permitted rate of slurry application from the current level (140kg per hectare) to the level allowed under EU rules for Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (170kg per hectare). They have also given a green light to using a tranche of Denmark’s funds available from the EU Rural Development Programme to support new investments in more environmentally friendly pig finishing facilities.

Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) are used to measure the environmental impacts of each stage in the production and supply chain. These analyses have shown that, for production of pigs and other livestock species, by far the largest share of environmental impacts occur during the primary production stage. The overall results of a study undertaken by the University of Aarhus are shown in this chart. The production of feed for the pigs is the largest single contributor of greenhouse gases. Pig production itself, in particular the management of slurry and other farm wastes, is the next highest contributor. The slaughter of pigs and the subsequent processing of pig meat accounts for just under 5 per cent and transport (also known as ‘food miles’) accounts for less than 1 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Aarhus University report ‘Danish Pork Production – An Environmental Assessment’ (November 2007) can be accessed here.

Production efficiency is a key parameter in influencing the level of greenhouse gas emissions and a further report from Aarhus University highlighted significant differences between the most efficient Danish producers versus the industry average. Emissions from the more efficient producers were 10 per cent lower than those with an average performance. This illustrates the scope for achieving reductions through efficiency improvements as more producers modernise their facilities and production facilities, including the introduction of new technologies for air cleaning, slurry treatment and biogas production.

The Aarhus University report ‘Environmental Assessment of Danish Pork’ (April 2011) can be accessed here.

Danish pig farmers can already document significant improvements in achieving more sustainable production during the last 30 years. Although the number of pigs produced in Denmark has increased, there has been a discernible reduction in the industry’s impact on the environment. Farmers produce a kg of pork today with approximately half the environmental impact as that of 1985.

Life Cycle Assessments have shown that the slaughtering of pigs, the cutting, boning and processing of pig meat account for just under 5 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions generated in producing pork.

All manufacturing businesses in Denmark, including commercial slaughterhouses and meat processing plants, have been required to produce a detailed statement of the environmental impact of their business activity or ‘Green Accounts’ since the mid-1990s.

Research and development work undertaken by the Danish Meat Research Institute has helped the industry achieve significant improvements in reducing the environmental impact of the processes involved in pig slaughtering and pig meat production. This work has included minimising energy and water usage, recycling of waste products, avoiding unnecessary contamination of waste water, including pre-treatment at source, and development of more environmentally friendly packaging materials.

Read more about the different aspects of climate & environment in the primary production