Cracking through egg history
2019 was a simpler time, blissfully unaware of the subsequent pandemic and lockdowns. Heck, the year started with an egg setting a world record.
On the 4th of January, an egg was posted on Instagram. Today, this picture has more than 56 million likes, beating the 18 million like record previously set by Kylie Jenner.
Imagine being an influencer, thriving to have the most likes and internet attention, only to be beaten by an egg. Ha! While eggs have recently been part of popular culture, they have been in the human diet for ages.
Fowl were domesticated in East India more than 5000 years ago, while Egyptian and Chinese records indicate that fowl eggs were consumed by humans as early as 1400 B.C. Egg production has increased exponentially over time, with the egg industry today being worth more than $200 billion.
1.64 trillion eggs are produced annually, implying an average annual consumption of 206 eggs per person. With an average consumption of 2928 calories a day and an egg providing 72 calories, this would amount to eggs providing nearly 1.4% of our annual caloric intake.
The environmental impact and welfare considerations are no yolk
As you could expect with any industry of this size, there are massive climate implications to producing 1.64 trillion eggs. Eggs are the 9th most carbon-intensive food, emitting 4.8 kg CO2 per kg consumed.
Indeed, the egg industry emits approximately 300 million tons of CO2e. A single ingredient emits more emissions yearly than Poland, a country that gets 72% of its energy from coal.
One of the most significant sources of emissions in the egg industry is the feed provided to hens, making up for 85% of total emissions. This is due to the presence of soy in poultry diets. Often, this crop is imported from South America, leading to high emissions from deforestation and transportation.
Alongside the environmental impact, we must take a deeper look into the welfare of animals. Every year, 7 billion male chicks are slaughtered, either shredded alive or suffocated. This arises as male chicks are not considered a viable economic investment.
Most of the chicks that survive will spend their life in a cage. In the United States, 74% of hens live in battery cages. That’s 243 million birds! Their beaks are cut to prevent them from hurting themselves when crammed into the cages, often stacked on top of each other.
Hatching a plan to reduce emissions
Well, that was grim! Nevertheless, there are options for the industry to decarbonise its operations and supply chain:
- Alternative feed: Peas, beans, algae or even insects could be favoured to replace soya. However, farmers need to ensure that they contain similar protein content. At times, it may come at a premium.
- Cleaner and lower energy consumption: The first thing farms can do is partner with renewable energy providers or produce energy on-site with wind farms or solar panels. Insulation and ground source heat pumps can reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption, saving costs.
- Getting our shit together: Chicken manure can be collected for anaerobic digestion, breaking down the waste to produce biogas or natural fertiliser. This could be an additional source of income for farmers.
- Better animal husbandry: Ensuring that birds stay healthy reduces mortality and lower outputs. As the bulk of emissions come from feed, we need to ensure that chickens that are fed are in a position to produce eggs.
We’ve seen that yes, we can reduce the emissions from the production of eggs. However, that won’t stop the suffering felt by the animals. If only there was a solution that could reduce emissions and animal cruelty!
Boiling it down to one solution
In comes JUST Egg. The company is on a mission to build a more just food system that nourishes, strengthens the planet, and is accessible to all.
“The evidence is clear: Our food system needs to be transformed for the sake of our planet and the future of humankind.”
Marco Lambertini, General Director, WWF International
It’s natural to question how one could do so. The world population is expected to reach 10 billion people by 2050 and our food system is not fit for purpose in the face of climate change which accelerates crop loss and makes agriculture more challenging for farmers.
Their vision for a just food system starts with a better egg. For Just Egg, attaining this is no chicken or the egg dilemma. They have removed the chicken from the equation!
Their star ingredient is the mung bean, a 4,400-year-old legume with a protein that scrambles like an egg. This discovery enables them to provide eggs made from plants.
Their vegan eggs require 98% less water, emit 93% fewer emissions and require 86% less land than chicken eggs. From a health perspective, their eggs have zero cholesterol. 69% less saturated fat than chicken eggs and an equal amount of protein. That sounds like a win for the planet and your body!
As of 2020, they had sold 40 million eggs, saving 1.48 billion gallons of water and 6 million kgs of CO2e. That’s equivalent to the annual water consumption of 52659 French citizens and 24 million km driven by an average passenger car. To date, they have sold 250 million eggs and are just getting started.
I heard about the company through a Serena Williams advert. It’s hilarious, and I’d encourage you to watch it. Plant-based eggs for Madama la G.O.A.T. On a more serious note, this story says a lot about how companies can disrupt established industries, providing better alternatives for people and the planet.
Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Energy & Sustainability writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.