Farmers across Canada are producing more high-quality eggs, while using fewer resources than ever. According to Egg Farmers of Canada, which represents 1,000 farmers and farm families across the country, the industry has grown significantly in the last decade while embedding environmental sustainability practices into its business model.

Canada’s egg industry recognizes a holistic approach is needed for sustainability, involving the environment, food safety, and quality — and egg farmers are proud of this approach and the fresh, high-quality, local product they produce. “We think the biggest opportunity for all food producers is the growing interest from the public in knowing where their food comes from and how it is produced,” says Tim Lambert, CEO of Egg Farmers of Canada. “People want to know that their food is produced in a way that is environmentally sustainable. This isn’t particularly new for the egg industry, as we began adopting new practices to become more sustainable years ago.” 

Research spurs innovation, and the egg industry continually invests in research chairs at universities across the country. Each chair leads research in a different area, including animal welfare, public policy, and environmental sustainability. It’s the last one that is creating a lot of excitement.

Led by Dr. Nathan Pelletier, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus and EFC Research Chair in Sustainability, innovative ideas are being extensively researched and developed, for implementation directly on farms. “Taken as a whole, food production is a major contributor to environmental issues,” says Dr. Pelletier. “It’s essential that the industry become more sustainable, and what is satisfying to me is knowing that the egg farmers recognize the importance of sustainability, and are serious about using the work of researchers to guide the future of the egg business.”

One of the most pivotal pieces of research was an expansive study that evaluated the environmental footprint of the egg industry in Canada over a 50-year period. It showed huge improvements in efficiency and technology that have, among other things, led to better feed production, more efficient transportation, and better bird genetics. “The findings were very striking,” says Dr. Pelletier. “For example, 50 years ago, farmers used more than three kilograms of feed to net one kilogram of eggs. Nowadays, it only takes two kilograms of feed. And hens are laying about 100 eggs more per year than they did in 1962.”

Noting the value of the study, Dr. Pelletier continues. “What’s good for the environment is good for business. At the heart of sustainability efforts is researching the entire lifecycle of the industry. This is critical, so researchers and farmers can see how sustainability is distributed in different areas, and identify the tradeoffs.” As Dr. Pelletier puts it, one decision made in isolation could inadvertently cause more impact to the environment somewhere else.

Peter Clarke, a fifth-generation egg farmer, welcomes the focus on research and environmental sustainability. “Dr. Pelletier’s research provides us with a useful snap-
shot of how far we’ve come as an industry and shows us the potential for future sustainability opportunities,” he says. “These insights allow farmers to make informed decisions and to evaluate what best suits their unique situation and environmental goals.”

New green technologies are already being implemented. An egg farm in Nova Scotia has installed wind turbines to create green energy and reduce energy expenditures, while another in Alberta is working toward a net-zero environmental footprint by generating more renewable energy than it uses. Clarke adds that Dr. Pelletier’s work toward developing a tool for Canadian egg farmers to measure and track the progress of sustainability initiatives directly on-farm will be indispensable, because it will help even more farmers quickly implement new tools that can make a lasting difference in a farm’s overall environmental footprint. Combined with new research and innovation, the egg industry is set to continue producing green eggs for Canadians from coast to coast.