The environmental impact of animal disease

By Rob Hannam, CEO

Swine disease hurts the environment, not just the animals. For example, a swine disease can increase CO2 emissions intensities by almost 9% (kg carbon dioxide/kg pork). Looking across the industry, the negative environmental impacts of diseases like Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea (PEDV) and Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) could potentially be equivalent to those of a small-scale city.

An animal disease occurrence causes reduced production efficiency or higher mortality. This in turn impacts the environment because some or all of the  resources that went into the livestock were essentially wasted. Animals that survive disease take more time and feed resources to reach their target final weight, increasing the carbon footprint per pound of meat produced.


Swine disease can increase CO2 emissions intensities by almost 9%. Looking across the industry, the negative environmental impacts of diseases like PEDV and PRRS are equivalent to those of a small-scale city.


Even just one disease outbreak can have a big environmental impact. For example, an outbreak of PEDV on a 2,400-head wean-to-finish site will increase animal mortality by over 300% right at the start of the production cycle.1 Of the animals that survive the disease, production efficiency and daily weight gain are reduced, so it takes longer to reach average market weight. Specifically,

  • Feed consumption is increased by 9.7% (49 lb or 22Kg of extra feed per animal due to disease)
  • Farm revenue is decreased by 13% due to lower production level and higher feed costs (not including extra labour costs and farm worker mental health impact)
  • Emissions intensity is increased by 8.67% per Kg of pork meat produced

A life cycle assessment (LCA) is used to calculate environmental performance. For pork production, this includes all inputs from feed and water to housing and their impact on carbon emissions. The outcomes are articulated as kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq) produced per kilogram of marketed pork. For example, the emissions intensity for producing 1 kg of pork (carcass weight) after primary processing produces 4.43 kg CO₂ eq, equivalent to a 10.5-mile (17 km) car trip.2

Pork is the world’s most widely consumed meat and while it is the most energy efficient red meat protein we produce3, its production has an environmental impact contributing to its footprint. Disease prevention contributes to both economic and environmental sustainability. Animal health contributes to farm sustainability, with healthy animals being more efficient pork producers, leading to a lower carbon footprint.

Maintaining animal health through measures like biosecurity can help keep the industry on the path to reducing its environmental footprint and continuing its history of strong environmental stewardship. Visit our website to learn more:

1 Alvarez, J; J. Sarradell, R. Morrison, and A. Perez. 2015. Impact of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea on Performance of Growing Pigs. PLoS ONE 10(3): e0120532. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0120532.
2 Groupe AGECO