Climate-friendly food doesn't always have to be meatless, Paula McCooey, poultry manager with Alltech, told a Teagasc broiler conference in Limerick on Thursday 28 September.
McCooey highlighted the importance of understanding and reducing your carbon footprint at farm level.
"We've all heard the saying that if you don't measure it you can't improve it. Well in this case, if you don't measure your carbon footprint you are missing out on the opportunity to show all of the improvements you are making year on year, whether that be improving your poultry houses, moving towards renewable energy and putting in solar panels or the food conversion ratio (FCR) improvements that are made; all of that improves yours carbon footprint.
"If you don't have your base value measurement to show where you are or where you were, it's very difficult to show and measure the improvements you are making," McCooey said.
A carbon footprint is the measurement of the total greenhouse gas emissions associated with a product, service or activity.
At farm level, greenhouse gas emissions are generally an indicator of waste. That could be physical waste like manure or unused feed or waste from an environmental standing point, according to McCooey.
Broiler production is the carbon efficient, followed by pork, dairy and beef
Measuring and monitoring your carbon footprint is a four-step process, McCooey explained.
The first step is to collect the data and to do the assessment which can be done remotely or on the farm.
The second stage, once the data is collected and verified, is to go through a calculation model and a report is produced. This report will come up with a number of key recommendations that are going to improve your carbon footprint over the next 12 months.
Step three is to implement these recommendations and step four is to reassess after a period of 12 months.
Average carbon footprint
The average carbon footprint for broiler production is 2.27kg Co2/kg LW, the most carbon efficient, followed by pork, dairy and beef.
Improving feed efficiency is not rocket science
As much as 80% of broiler farms' carbon footprint is contributed to feed and feed use, while the other 20% is made up of the birds themselves, manure emissions and energy.
"If we want to have a big impact on our carbon footprint in broiler production, we need to look at feed and feed use. Improving feed efficiency is not rocket science.
"Feed efficiency is directly related to bird health and optimum bird comfort throughout each stage of its life," she said.
A case study with a UK broiler company showed that they were able to reduce the global warming potential of feed.
The company calculated its carbon footprint in 2021 and then outlined a number of recommendations.
"They worked with their nutritionist to reduce the level of soya in the feed and they also ensure that the feed they are using is coming from a sustainable source.
"By doing this, they were able to reduce the global warming potential of the feed and then they also worked with Alltech to reduce FCR by six points. This was achieved by changing and improving managing practices.
"In 2022, they were able to show that the carbon footprint reduced by 47%," McCooey said.
This example, she added, highlights the importance of having a baseline so that your can measure the improvements that you've made.