DO YOU KNOW CARBON LABELING?
Carbon labeling is the idea that a product should clearly show how much pollution it is responsible. Improving sustainability of the livestock sector is essential. Farming represent 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emission related to human activities. Life cycle assessment (LCA) studies have shown that feed production accounts for 70% of that contribution. End-users consumers are putting more and more pressure to manufacturers for reducing footprint of the goods they supply. Improved knowledge of the environmental impact of feed ingredients is fundamental to instigate a positive change.
The idea of a comprehensive environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) was conceived in the USA in the late 1960s/early 1970s. In 1969, the Coca Cola Company commissioned the first LCA study to examine the complete environmental impact of a package, focusing on sustaining the use of high value recyclable materials and reusable packages. Around 1973, the interest turned to energy mainly due to the oil crisis. In 1988, interest returned to solid waste, but this was quickly replaced by a more balanced concern about the areas of resource use and environmental emissions. In 1991, concerns over the inappropriate use of LCAs to make marketing claims by product manufacturers, led to the development of the LCA standards in the International Standards Organization (ISO) 14000 series.
ISO guidelines clearly define the technique to examine the life cycle of a product (or a service), from the supply of the raw materials, through manufacture, distribution, use, possible re-use and recycling and then final disposal.
For each stage, the inputs (in terms of raw materials and energy) and outputs (in terms of emissions to air, water, soil, and solid waste) are listed, and then converted into their effects on the environment (cf figure 1) and illustrated by an LCA index.
Strategies to improve sustainability
In the past, traditional environmental themes, such as protecting species and improving the air/water quality were the major environmental concerns facing the world. Nowadays, more systematic approaches that consider the links between various themes and their global dimension are required. A multi-stakeholder initiative named LEAP (Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance Partnership) has been created by FAO. It develops guidance and methodology for understanding the environmental performance of livestock supply chains, in order to shape evidence-based policy measures and business strategies.
An ingredient coming from a process of fermentation or trituration like a synthetic amino-acid or an oil will have a higher impact than a cereal. A soybean imported from Brazil will have a stronger CO2 impact than a local one because of transportation. Palm oil associated to deforestation would be less favor than a certified one (7,000 vs 500 kg equivalent CO2).
The figure 2 below is illustrating the environmental footprint of an animal feed based on a standard composition. The results show that cereals and oilseeds (48% and 28% of total feed composition, respectively) contribute the most to environmental footprint (EF) on climate change, acidification and eutrophication, energy demand, and terrestrial ecotoxicity, due to the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and transportation network for their production (Figure 2).
Even if trace minerals represented only 0.78% of total feed ingredients consumed, they showed the highest contribution to freshwater and marine ecotoxicity, due to their high toxicity potential when emitted into soils and waters, and to metal depletion, due to the fact that they are non-renewable resources. This high contribution demonstrates the importance of the sustainable use of trace minerals in terms of source and dose used in animal nutrition. Nevertheless, there is still room for methodological improvement in the evaluation of their impacts: (i) move the system boundaries from ‘at feed factory gate’ to beyond animal production, accounting the EF of disposing animal wastes. (ii) improve the robustness of ecotoxicity models. (iii) account for the chemical form of trace mineral sources in animal wastes on LCA. A project called SUMINAPP Project and funded by EU H2020 (www.suminapp.eu) expects to fill these three gaps by providing a new ecotoxicity assessment approach, from feed to excreta, using new LCA ecotoxicity characterization factors informed from experimental results.
Some feed producers already created one additional dimension in their formulation matrix to include the LCA score of ingredients and monitor the LCA index of the recipe. That approach enables them to optimize their diets not only on the economical aspect but the ecological one. A standard gestation diet brings around 380kg equivalent CO2 / ton but it goes up to 560 for pig finisher diet and even 620kg CO2 for lactating diet. The reduction of this level of footprint through formulation will increase diet cost but through proper communication, we can expect consumers to pay higher price for “ecological” meat.
Therefore, we should very soon start seeing the LCA score on the bags label and hopefully on the meat labels at the supermarkets. When it will happen, the LCA score will become an important criterion of differentiation between feed manufacturers.
In April 2020, Quorn, a UK food supplier, announced plans to introduce “farm to shop” carbon labels for 30 of its bestselling products, including its mince, crispy nuggets and sausages. They expect such practices to develop among producers in order to enable benchmark between labels.
In France, a new certification standard has been created to help company to define what they call their Eco-score. They define 4 categories from A to D according to the LCA index. There are more than 240,000 products that have already been certified and this approach is becoming more and more popular both among producers and consumers.
If you are interested on that topics, do not hesitate to come back to me for discussion and I will help you to define the project ambition and methodology. Our supplier of mineral products has been heavily involved in that process in Europe and their expertise could be valuable for all of us.