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Pork leads protein sustainability race

Pork Pulse: Pork has a place in a healthy and sustainable diet as part of the food sustainability framework.

May 22, 2024

3 Min Read
pork chops in a meat case
SUSTAINABLE MEAT: Research has shown that in addition to being a nutritious protein choice, pork also checks the box as a sustainable option in the meat case.Photo courtesy of the National Pork Board

To qualify as sustainable, foods need to be nutrient rich, affordable, environmentally friendly and socially acceptable. Pork checks all four boxes as a sustainable, high-quality protein.

The Minnesota Pork Board works directly with the National Pork Board to stay informed with relevant research staff members continually study, better equipping state organizations.

The latest research on pork has some surprising findings regarding its nutrient density, affordability and impact on the environment. Kristen Hicks-Roof, director of Nutrition Research at the National Pork Board, identified a gap in the science and sought out this evidence-based research for an answer that could help put fresh pork at the center of sustainable diet conversations.

Disentangling pork from other foods

Nearly all databases used to study nutritional characteristics, prices or environmental footprints, group pork in with other foods, despite it having different characteristics in other forms of measurement.

For example, the USDA category of protein foods includes meat, poultry, fish and seafood, eggs, beans and legumes, and nuts and seeds. But these are not equal, as they have different amino-acid profiles, different per calorie prices, and different environmental footprints, measured in terms of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE).

Adam Drewnowski, professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, first untethered pork from other foods in the four domains of the food sustainability framework using nutrient composition and prices data from the USDA, food balance sheets from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, country-level incomes from the World Bank, and GHGE data for the U.S. from the scientific literature.

Pork in healthy, sustainable diets

To understand if pork has a place in a healthy and sustainable diet as part of the food sustainability framework, Drewnowski first looked at the nutritional protein quality of pork. He found that pork meat is an excellent source of high-quality protein, providing more than 20 grams of protein per 100 grams of pork. Pork also delivers 100% of daily needs of protein for the least calories.

Next, he focused on affordability. His analysis suggests pork meat costs less per 50-gram amount of protein compared to other red meats.

Pork meat has a clear price advantage over red meat and comes close to chicken in the Thrifty Food Plan market basket, or the USDA food plan that informs the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as the cost to purchase groceries in an affordable, nutritious and practical way for a family of four.

Environment came next, where Drewnowski separated pork from other red meats in terms of sustainability data. He shows that the estimated GHGE emissions for pork meat (using U.S. data from other studies) are in fact closer to those of beans and poultry — a clear environmental advantage.

Sustainable diet recommendations

David Newman, senior vice president of Market Growth at the National Pork Board, suggests that distilling the benefits of pork in the global food supply can be exactly what farmers and producers in the industry need to see happen.

“This report tells us more people around the world are relying on animal protein for their nutrition because of rising incomes across lower- and middle-income countries, and this creates a growing demand for pork to replace traditional plant proteins. The data suggests there’s no sign of this trend slowing down,” he adds.

Source: National Pork Board

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