Sustainability in the ham sector: the case of Teruel

Right now, as we face down a major social, economic and environmental crisis, the Protected Designation of Origin for Teruel Ham and Shoulder is taking great strides. As it clearly provides socio-economic structure to the region, the PDO is increasingly concerned about the future and the sustainability of our planet. To a certain extent, all human economic and social sectors affect the Earth’s sustainability. Our population is constantly increasing and with it, the impact that we make on the environment. The agro-food sector doubtlessly adds to this rise in contamination along with others such as electricity production, the oil industry, transport or the textile industry. A study entitled The global impacts of food production, published in 2018 in the Science journal by scientists from the University of Oxford, provided some significant data: at least 25% of annual greenhouse gas emissions came from the food sector. Out of this percentage, 58% is related to animal products, with half of these emissions attributed to beef and lamb production. Although rearing pigs and manufacturing its products are not exactly the highest contributor to this figure, it is clear than the sector has the power to reduce these figures to a minimum.

What can we do to minimise the impact?

Without the shadow of a doubt, the first thing we can do is know where we stand. And this is exactly what the Teruel Protected Designation of Origin has set out to do. During the last edition of the Teruel Ham Fair, a study was presented that had been commissioned by the Control Board, performed by AyC and Omawa to analyse the ham production cycle of the Teruel PDO. This was the first study of its type carried out by a PDO in Spain which set out to improve sustainability in the sector. We are proud to be one of the five companies taking part, representing the entire ham production cycle (farms, abattoirs and drying areas), in a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) on both ham and pork shoulder from Teruel. This methodology makes it possible to analyse all environmental loads for a product by identifying and quantifying material and energy, thereby determining the impact and the emissions to subsequently devise improvement strategies. For months, the company carrying out the study has been compiling and analysing the data as we provide it. In our case, in addition to showing our entire process in situ, we have provided data on the origin of our raw material, to estimate transport emissions, and our energy consumption, cleaning and disinfection products or office materials and packaging. Only when we know how much and, above all, how we are contaminating can we set up solutions and reduce these figures to the bare minimum. Now we know our impact, we can immediately get to work on lowering these figures.

A lower carbon footprint than other hams.

One of the most interesting results from this study is doubtlessly the figures for the quantity of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere when making a product. This data is expressed in units of equivalent carbon dioxide and is known as the carbon footprint. One of the virtues of the production systems for the Protected Designation of Origin for Teruel Ham is, precisely, its local aspect. The fact that the entire process takes place in the same province reduces travel considerably and so also CO2 emissions. At a time when we are increasingly used to consuming food made thousands of miles away and, in turn, often use raw materials from third party countries, Teruel ham is made using pigs born and raised locally, fed with cereals from neighbouring provinces and slaughtered in the same area. Consequently, producing a Teruel ham leaves a carbon footprint of 21.87 kg of CO2 for each piece weighing around 9 kg, in other words 2.43 kg of CO2 for each kg of ham. To get an idea of what this means, it is worth bearing in mind that an everyday activity like driving 10 km in a car releases 1.8 kg of CO2 to the atmosphere, more than half of emissions from making one kg of ham. Consuming local products, and more so if they are made with ingredients from the area, is doubtlessly a wonderful way of contributing to the planet’s sustainability. If the manufacturers of these products are also committed to gradually reducing their emissions, then all the better. The Teruel Ham and Shoulder PDO is committed because this study is just the beginning.

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