Princeton University Library Catalog

THE STATE OF SWINE: The Influence of Public Policy on Sustainability in Pork Production

Brown, Marguerite [Browse]
Senior thesis
Searchinger, Timothy [Browse]
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs [Browse]
Class year:
115 pages
Restrictions note:
Walk-in Access. This thesis can only be viewed on computer terminals at the Mudd Manuscript Library.
Summary note:
Meat accounts for one of every six calories consumed within the average human diet. Forty percent of that calorie would be from pigs: the most commonly eaten livestock. The presence of pork-products in global cuisines is not surprising given the many natural advantages to raising pork. The idiom “eats like a pig” says it all: they are monogastric animals and exhibit the highest feed conversion rate between calories consumed and meat produced. This makes pork inherently more sustainable than other meat. Despite these unique benefits of pork, the question of the inherent unsustainability of eating meat persists. As increasing global mean temperatures and a growing population tax the already burdened global agricultural system, the allocation of vast quantities of cereals to livestock raises ethical concerns. These grains could feed the world’s hungry several times over. But global meat demand is only increasing, disproportionately so for pig products. As a result, it is necessary to pursue a form of production that can be sustained not just for the present, but into the future as well. Denmark represents the gold standard in sustainable pork production. Although the nation exhibits protective environmental policies, it has maintained its dominance in the export-industry. American producers argue that the global agricultural system demands cheap meat, which can only be provided through factory-scale production, where need for efficiency makes environmental reform impracticable. Although Denmark relies upon the same hyper-efficient, industrial production methods, its government extends calculations of productive efficiency into an evaluation of the net-environmental impact. Danish environmental policy has not only improved aquatic health and air quality, and likely decreased instances of antibiotic-resistant infection, but it has done so while expanding the Danish industry. This paper seeks to understand whether the Danish example can inform American environmental reforms within the pig industry. In pursuit of this goal this paper will considers the three most environmental policy concerns within this industry: 1) The contribution of pork production to global warming primarily through the production of feed and treatment of waste; 2) The contribution of pork production to impaired water quality, primarily due to nutrient runoff from agricultural fields and from waste treatment; 3) The administration of antibiotics to pigs and its contribution to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This study will first perform a quantitate comparison of these three issues and then examine the policies and enforcement mechanisms that govern these aspects of production. This paper contends that existing Danish environmental policies can serve to inform American environmental reforms. Finally, this study strongly recommends that further research be done on the issue of non-therapeutic administration of antibiotics to livestock. It is evident that stringent Danish controls of antibiotic-use have not resulted in the loss of productive efficiency, countering the most-expressed fear proceeding from attempts at similar reforms in the U.S. However, it is not within the scope of this paper, or the capabilities of its author, to evaluate the ban in terms of its intended effect of decreasing instances of antibiotic-resistance within bacteria, thus further study is recommended.