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Historically, corporate carbon-reduction strategies haven't looked to genetic innovations as a viable Scope 3 reduction opportunity; but it is one of the most important considerations for improving the sustainability of livestock
Investors, governments and consumers around the world are continuing to
challenge corporations to aggressively reduce their environmental footprints. To
date, 83 percent of Fortune 500
have publicly made climate commitments; and over 5,200
companies use the Science
Based Targets initiative as the framework to cut carbon emissions from their
supply chains. That leaves many sustainability-driven leaders searching for
scientifically sound carbon-intervention strategies to further their company’s
To achieve these ambitious reduction targets, every segment of the value chain
needs to work together. We must apply new approaches and technologies that
deliver holistic value to create and support a sustainable food system.
When it comes to protein production, that means raising healthier animals using
fewer resources; and it starts with improved animal genetics.
I have been a student of agriculture for most of my life and continue to be
fascinated by its unique complexities. I’ve worked on and managed a variety of
farms and ranches across the United States — all with the goal of improving
environmental outcomes with protein production.
I also established a regenerative agriculture research department for a private
foundation, attempting to quantify the holistic impacts of differing agriculture
production systems. Eventually, I accepted a role at McDonald’s Corporation
— where I led protein sustainability for the US business. In that role, I was
responsible for animal health and welfare programs — implementing US antibiotics
policies and greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction strategies specific to the protein
My experience provides me with a firsthand account of the pressure agriculture
is facing and the solutions we need to address them. While searching for
practical and feasible solutions for carbon reductions, I believe we’ve
overlooked and undervalued the role advanced livestock genetics play in creating
a more sustainable food system.
That’s why my employer, Genus PLC, is working to
prove advanced livestock genetics are an important tool to reduce GHG emissions
and deliver other environmental benefits. Genus provides the underlying genetics
for pork, beef and dairy cows raised by farmers and ranchers around the world;
and we know that sustainable protein production begins with raising healthy
animals that can thrive.
US pork producers have pledged to reduce GHG emissions by 40 percent by
— an ambitious goal, but one that’s achievable using a combination of on-farm
best management practices, land-based conservation practices and advanced
livestock genetics. Together, these strategies can yield significant production
efficiencies, which translate into carbon reductions and cost savings within the
pork supply chain.
Historically, corporate carbon-reduction strategies have not utilized genetic
innovations as a viable Scope 3
opportunity; but choosing the right genetics is one of the most important things
producers can do to improve the sustainability of livestock production.
Healthier pigs require less feed and water over their
lifetime and have less need for
partnering with several third-party researchers on additional studies to
quantify these benefits specific to the positive impact of elite genetics on
pork production. The initial research results show significant
such as reductions in GHG emissions, water use, land use change and the need for
antibiotics. This helps pork producers be more resilient and meets the true
definition of sustainability by “doing more with less.”
Genetic innovations are easier to monitor, report and verify than some
intervention strategies; and it’s more cost-effective to prevent emissions than
to sequester them. More importantly, genetic improvements are not limited by
geography — they can support sustainability improvements around the world.
Now with new technologies, such as gene editing, we can accelerate these
benefits to further ambitious climate goals and consumer expectations faster. I
believe gene editing is the future of animal health; it can improve animal
welfare while reducing the environmental impact of protein production. It’s a
win-win for the entire value chain.
To understand the impact of genetic improvements, PIC is undertaking a Life
Cycle Assessment (LCA) — which will quantify environmental benefits, including
GHG reductions, associated with the use of our elite genetics. Providing these
metrics leads to real, measurable carbon reductions and empowers companies to
achieve their climate goals.
PIC’s LCA is the first step. We are partnering with the National Pork Board
(NPB) to create a Carbon Reduction Framework that will allow corporations to
claim reductions based on the demonstrated use of genetic innovations; this is
the first-time genetic improvements will be accounted for in this way. The
framework will outline everything that must exist for a corporation to make a
claim — including how to quantify, verify and track a reduction within its
What does that mean for organizations? Once the Carbon Reduction Framework is
complete, retailers, foodservice organizations and other downstream customers
with pork in their supply chains will be able to measure and claim genetically
derived carbon reductions as progress toward their climate goals.
PIC and NPB are working to codify the Carbon Reduction Framework; and we value
your input. We are searching for partners to help pilot-test the Framework to
showcase the measurable carbon-reduction benefits that can be achieved through
genetics within a functioning pork supply chain.
If you buy or sell pork, please consider participating in our pilot project.
Working together, we can define and set the standard for what sustainable
protein production truly looks like. We can create a system for measuring and
verifying carbon interventions to support corporate environmental goals. The
initial Framework is specific to North American pork production and will be
adapted to create a model that can be applied to other protein species —
including beef and dairy — then, replicated in other regions around the world.
Working together, we can help make global protein production more sustainable.
If you’d like to join us, or learn more about genetics as a sustainability
solution, please contact me at
Published Aug 4, 2023 11am EDT / 8am PDT / 4pm BST / 5pm CEST
Banks Baker is Global Director of Product Sustainability for Pig Improvement Company (PIC) — the global porcine genetics business for Genus. A world-leading animal genetics and biotechnology company, Genus breeds pigs and cattle with desirable genetic traits that help farmers of all sizes produce meat and milk more efficiently and sustainably to help feed the growing global demand for animal protein.
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.