'FCR too simplistic a measure for livestock emissions gauge' says UK pig expert hitting out at Defra report

By Jane Byrne contact

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Related tags: Greenhouse gas

'FCR too simplistic a measure for livestock emissions gauge' says UK pig expert hitting out at Defra report
UK pig industry representatives have criticized a report from Defra looking at the progress of various livestock sectors on climate change targets saying feed conversion ratio (FCR) is too simplistic a metric for GHG emission performance.

Looking at finishing pigs only, a review, Agricultural Statistics and Climate Change​ (July 2014)​, by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), found the FCR for the UK pig fattening herd has deteriorated, with more feed required per unit increase in pig weight in recent years. 

“This would imply a reduction in feed efficiency and increased [greenhouse gas (GHG)] emissions intensity [for the pig sector],”​ said the report evaluating the segment in terms of its environmental profile. 

But Nigel Penlington, environment program manager at BPEX, told this publication that FCR is too basic a proxy indicator to determine how each livestock segment is doing: 

“This is something the farming sectors have debated with the report's authors. While using a simple measurement is fine for most manufacturing industries, such as how much energy it takes to make a tin can, it is not good for complex biological systems with multiple variables such as agriculture. ​ 

In fact, the Defra climate change report was amended to reflect the data we provided, which highlighted the flaws of using simple proxy indicators.” 

Disease, high feed prices

FCR is fine to use if no other efficiency parameter changes over a period of time, said Penlington.

“However, during the years of the Defra analysis, the pig sector was hit by factors such as foot and mouth and wasting disease and carcass weights increased to maximize yield rates amid a spike in input costs.

The high feed prices we saw in 2010 meant we had to make feed formulation changes. The response to this was actually positive in that lower carbon intensity ingredients — co-products replacing soy — came into play.

However, these are not as efficient as soy in terms of FCR," ​he said.

The BPEX commissioned life cycle assessment​ (LCA) is a fairer way to evaluate environmental impact of a sector, said Penlington, and it showed the pig industry was 27% ahead of UK government targets.  

Poultry performance

In terms of the poultry sector, the Defra report found there was a slight upward trend in the overall FCR for table birds between 2001 and 2008, suggesting a possible increase in GHG emissions intensity. 

But the review noted some recent improvement in the FCR, saying it has been greater and for a longer period for turkeys than for broilers.

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