SLU news

Social sustainability of Swedish pork is better than European average, but not for pig farmers

Published: 30 September 2020
Farmer with pig in barn

A social assessment of pork production shows that pigs in Sweden are better off than pigs in the average European production. From a social perspective, the largest concerns for Swedish pork production are related to pig farmers and society. This is the conclusion of a study conducted by researchers at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), who investigated social sustainability of Swedish pork production with a life cycle assessment.

Pork production has many stakeholders, such as pig farmers, workers, local community, consumers, society at large and the pigs themselves. We investigated how these stakeholders were affected by pork production and studied social conditions in conventional and organic pork production systems. We compared the production of Swedish pork, from the cultivation of soybeans to the consumer’s plate, with average European social conditions.

Social aspects related to Swedish pork

Based on a literature review and a workshop with experts, we identified many issues related to pork production. We could not find data for all issues discussed at the workshop, but in total 93 indicators were included in the assessment. We classified the issues based on who was affected and got a list of six stakeholders: pig farmers, workers, local community, consumers, society and pigs.

We constructed a Social Hotspot Index (SHI) describing the social risk on a scale between 0 and 1. A value of 0.5 represents conditions similar to European average social conditions. Below 0.5 means better social conditions and above 0.5 means worse.

Social sustainability for conventional and organic production

We saw that pig farmers and society were close to the European reference, indicating that for pig farmers and society there was no difference between Swedish pork production and average social conditions in Europe. For the other stakeholders, the Swedish pork production seems to be better, from a social point of view. 

In this assessment, the pigs had the lowest Social Hotspot Index; showing that animal welfare is a strength of Swedish pork production. Our findings cast a critical eye on social issues affecting pig farmers, such as low income and musculoskeletal disorders. Society is also affected, for example by low contribution to employment and food security and low commitment to animal genetic diversity. The difference in Social Hotspot Index between conventional and organic pork production for the local community is related to use of pesticides in feed production, access to farm stores and ability to see pigs on pasture.

Social, economic and environmental sustainability

There are many expectations on pork production; animal welfare should be high and the production should be economically viable and environmentally friendly and at the same time good for humans’ well-being. In the next step, we will combine a social life cycle assessment (LCA) with an environmental LCA.

For more information, please contact:

PhD student Stanley Zira or Professor Lotta Rydhmer at the Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Box 7023, 750 07 UPPSALA, Sweden.

Phone: +46 18 671000



Facts about the social life cycle analysis (S-LCA)

  • We evaluated two different systems for production of Swedish pork: conventional and organic production.
  • The evaluation included soybean cultivation in Brazil, China and Italy, rapeseed cultivation in Denmark and Sweden, cultivation of cereals for feed on pig farms in Sweden, pig production and slaughter and consumption of pork in Sweden.
  • The functional unit in this social LCA was 1000 kg of pork.
  • We started from the UNEP Guidelines for social LCA of a product (2009) and added two stakeholders: farmers and pigs.
  • Through a literature search and a workshop, we identified 156 social aspects of pork production and we found useful indicators for 93 of them.
  • We used categories proposed in the guidelines, such as health and safety, child labour, public commitment to sustainability and cultural heritage. We added some categories needed to cover aspects that emerged in the literature search and at the workshop, such as work satisfaction, food quality and categories linked to animal welfare.
  • The analysis included several categories for each stakeholder and we weighed them with weights from a survey where different categories were set against each other in pairs, so-called Analytical Hierarchical Processing (AHP). These weights show the relative importance of different aspects, according to our experts.
  • Social Hotspot Index describes the overall significance of social aspects for a stakeholder with an index value that is relative to a reference. We chose a European average as a reference. A lower index value is better in this evaluation.
  • We also calculated ‘social risk time’ taking into account the amount of time, e.g. working time in hours or pig life in days, needed to produce the functional unit of 1000 kg pork.