To realize sustainability-enhancing efficiencies across the pork supply chain, start with the right pig.

That’s the guiding principle behind the recently announced collaboration between PIC and the National Pork Board, which aims to create a framework to show pork producers how they can improve their sustainability through quantifying environmental benefits downstream from genetic improvements in pigs.

“We're going to be kicking off this work just by the end of this year,” said Banks Baker, director of new product marketing for PIC — or Pig Improvement Co., a global animal genetics and biotechnology company. “Something that became pretty striking for me was that we weren't utilizing the idea that starting with the right animal — starting with an animal that is healthy, robust and efficient — provides a sustainability outcome.”

As part of establishing their framework, PIC and NPB are first quantifying the differences between current industry production baselines to demonstrate how using animals with PIC’s genetics can provide systemwide reductions in inputs.

“That will give us the full environmental impact of what our genetics are delivering to the system,” Baker said. “That's really the first piece, and then the second piece is going to be around this framework that we're developing with Pork Board, in terms of what needs to exist, what are the minimum requirements, what has to happen, what needs to be demonstrated, in order for a corporation to be able to credibly claim these reductions within their supply chain”

Getting their livestock’s genetics right intersects with producers’ overall sustainability.

“To date, we haven't seen genetics be utilized as an intervention,” Baker said. “I think this is going to open up a whole new way that we can now look at genetics and what they're actually delivering to the supply chain. I think it's also highly advantageous for the pork side just because when you look at some of the other protein production systems, they're a little bit more segregated, or broken up, if you will. In beef, you'd have cow-calf operations and feed yards, and you'd have outside activity and grazing that is occurring. And in most of pork production in the United States, a lot of that is controlled, and so you're able to model that out in a much cleaner way.”

He said that because animal genetics are a key consideration in delivering production efficiencies, they also can be linked to sustainability improvements as well.

“Because these animals are healthier, they're converting feed more efficiently,” he said. “They're using water more efficiently. They're healthier, and so they also have fewer health issues.”

The effort’s holistic approach embraces all aspects of production.

“We're getting down even to understanding what some of the nitrogen content is on feed and what that does to emissions,” he said. “A more efficient animal, a healthier animal is getting so many different benefits that you don't want to just focus on one. But I think when we start looking at it, the efficiency piece, feed conversion ratios, water usage, mortality rates, morbidity rates, all of those things will add up to a more healthy animal — and we'll demonstrate that genetics are able to deliver those.”

Once the framework for the effort has been established, PIC and NPB want to enlist corporate partners for their effort.

“We're excited to identify a corporate entity that would like to utilize this as an intervention and pilot all this with us,” Baker said, adding that PIC and NPB’s framework could serve as a model for other areas of animal agriculture.