The greenhouse emissions footprint of free-range eggs

Poult Sci. 2014 Jan;93(1):231-7. doi: 10.3382/ps.2013-03489.


Eggs are an increasingly significant source of protein for human consumption, and the global poultry industry is the single fastest-growing livestock sector. In the context of international concern for food security and feeding an increasingly affluent human population, the contribution to global greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions from animal protein production is of critical interest. We calculated the GHG emissions footprint for the fastest-growing sector of the UK egg market: free-range production in small commercial units on mixed farms. Emissions are calculated to current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and UK standards (PAS2050): including direct, indirect, and embodied emissions from cradle to farm gate compatible with a full product life-cycle assessment. We present a methodology for the allocation of emissions between ruminant and poultry enterprises on mixed farms. Greenhouse gas emissions averaged a global warming potential of 2.2 kg of CO2e/dozen eggs, or 1.6 kg of CO2equivalent (e)/kg (assuming average egg weight of 60 g). One kilogram of protein from free-range eggs produces 0.2 kg of CO2e, lower than the emissions from white or red meat (based on both kg of meat and kg of protein). Of these emissions, 63% represent embodied carbon in poultry feed. A detailed GHG emissions footprint represents a baseline for comparison with other egg production systems and sources of protein for human consumption. Eggs represent a relatively low-carbon supply of animal protein, but their production is heavily dependent on cereals and soy, with associated high emissions from industrial nitrogen production, land-use change, and transport. Alternative sources of digestible protein for poultry diets are available, may be produced from waste processing, and would be an effective tool for reducing the industry's GHG emissions and dependence on imported raw materials.

Keywords: carbon footprint; free-range egg; greenhouse-gas emissions; life cycle assessment.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Feed
  • Animal Husbandry / methods*
  • Animals
  • Carbon Footprint / statistics & numerical data
  • Chickens / physiology*
  • Eggs / standards*
  • Female
  • Greenhouse Effect*
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Oviposition / physiology*