23 March 2023

Multidimensional sustainability assessment of pig production systems at herd level – The case of Denmark

Group of young pigs. Photo: PetraD // Colourbox.com
📷 PetraD // Colourbox.com

Olsen, J.V., Andersen, H.M-L., Kristensen, T., Schlægelberger, S.V., Udesen, F., Christensen, T., & Sandøe, P. (2023)
Livestock Science. Elsevier


Pig production systems vary in their ability to meet key sustainability goals such as lowered environmental impact, lowered climate impact, reduced land use, economic viability, and improved animal welfare. These goals are not fully aligned and may require trade-offs to be made. The aim of the paper is to quantify these potential trade-offs. Using Denmark as the study case, we assess the standard pig production system and four existing alternative systems, and in addition the impact of a range of manure handling technologies. Drawing on farm data from an almost industry-wide certification scheme, environmental and climate impact are estimated per kg live weight using the life-cycle approach. Antibiotic use is assessed by calculating weighted average doses consumed within the herd, and animal welfare is assessed with a recently developed benchmarking tool. Finally, productions costs are estimated using herd-level production data combined with farm-level cost estimates. We find that the five pig production systems perform differently in the sustainability dimensions at herd level. We also find that there is a trade-off between the sustainability dimensions, as no one production system dominates the others in all dimensions. Across the systems analysed, reduced climate impact goes to some extent hand-in-hand with cost effectiveness. However, there are negative correlations between animal welfare and production costs and, especially, animal welfare and the environment. These dilemmas affect both regulatory and market-driven schemes, and where the production and marketing of niche products is concerned difficult decisions will need to be made. Improvements in environmental impact will reduce performance in animal welfare or vice versa – and it will do so regardless of cost.

Multidimensional sustainability assessment of pig production systems at herd level – The case of Denmark (pdf)