Consumer demand for sustainably sourced food is driving a move by the chicken meat and egg industries to potentially reduce their net emissions to zero.
Chicken and egg production systems are already considered to have relatively low carbon footprints compared to alternative protein sources, however an investment by Australian Eggs and AgriFutures Australia flags industry's desire to develop a plan toward neutrality.
Australian Eggs managing director Rowan McMonnies said almost $500,000 had been committed to developing one of the most comprehensive carbon footprint assessments ever conducted in Australia.
"We are responding to community interest in long term sustainability," he said.
"In coming decades, we need to feed a fast-growing population with less resources and emissions.
"Eggs and chicken are well positioned as they already have a relatively low carbon footprint but there is an opportunity to push ahead and be part of contributing to a lower carbon society."
Mr McMonnies said the research, to be conducted by Integrity Ag Services consultant Dr Stephen Wiedemann, aims to determine the current energy usage of poultry products, creating new benchmarks and a framework to support farmers to lower their carbon footprint, ultimately allowing industry to pilot the system with farming businesses.
Dr Wiedemann said the last carbon footprint assessment of Australia's poultry industries was conducted over a decade ago and he believes recent improvements could see carbon neutral chicken and eggs being produced at a modest cost in the near future.
"The first step before identifying pathways to carbon neutrality is to conduct a comprehensive carbon footprint of the entire supply chain, from the planting of the grain that chickens eat to the packaging and transport of the final product," he said.
"Once you have that all-important baseline for the entire industry, you can test the impact of steps individual farms are taking to lower their footprints and then identify ways to mitigate whatever emissions remain."
Outputs from the project also include an assessment of the cost to establish carbon neutral or 'low carbon' eggs and chicken meat.
Research and Development Corporation for the chicken meat industry AgriFutures Australia managing director John Harvey said the results of the project would be particularly significant for people interested in reducing their dietary carbon footprint.
"Chicken is the most consumed meat in Australia by some margin and per capita consumption has increased ten-fold over the last 50 years," he said.
"While we are already a low emissions protein, the sheer volume of chicken in the national diet means anything we do to lower our footprint will have a significant impact."
Mr McMonnies said egg farmers had already made significant improvements through increasing feed efficiency, utilisation of solar energy and improved waste management and preliminary modelling had shown carbon neutral eggs could be produced for as little as an extra few cents per dozen.
"The carbon neutral project will reveal a broader set of opportunities by looking at the entire supply chain," he said.
"These changes have been made for both economic reasons and good environmental stewardship but given the carbon footprint reductions already achieved by some farms, it makes sense to investigate the ways to get to carbon neutral."