Pulse Beat Individual Articles

Pulse Canada: Pulses Benefit the Environment and the Economy

Denis Tremorin, Director of Sustainability, Pulse Canada – Spring 2022 Pulse Beat

IF YOU LOOK at agricultural policies around the world, you will see very different visions for how the world feeds its people. More often than not, it feels like Canada’s vision for the future of agriculture is under fire — but it doesn’t have to be this way. 

At Pulse Canada, our sustainability initiatives work to create conditions for growers, processors, and exporters to monetize global environmental sustainability commitments while establishing the Canadian pulse sector as a leader in providing food that decreases agriculture’s impact on the environment. Consumers and the food industry continue to demand more transparency into the sustainability of products. This push for transparency — backed up by data — presents a very real opportunity for Canadian pulse growers.

Pulses have a naturally lower carbon footprint than most foods because they require little to no nitrogen fertilizer to grow. This is because they have a special relationship with certain soil bacteria that convert nitrogen from the air into a form usable to the growing pulse crop. Beyond that, Canadian farmers have adopted practices such as minimum tillage and reducing fallowing, which have been proven to sequester large amounts of atmospheric carbon into soils. This sequestration of soil carbon negates the carbon emissions of producing a pulse crop, creating a carbon-neutral or even a carbon-negative crop.

Science backs this up, meaning incorporating Canadian pulses into food products can reduce the carbon emissions, water use and land use of food.

Take cereal-based foods, for example. At Pulse Canada, we have led work to explore how pulses can increase the protein and fibre of foods like pasta or breakfast cereal while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Pasta reformulated with lentil flour produced a noodle with 31% fewer carbon emissions than traditional noodles. This gives companies an opportunity to show their commitment to the environment by re-thinking how they make their products. This new demand for sustainability claims also presents Canadian farmers with the opportunity to sell their pulses at a premium — a win-win.

The same can be done through cooperation with the livestock sector. Consumers today want choices, and they buy from the markets that offer them. As Canada is a global producer of both plant and animal protein, it makes sense that we put our heads together to meet this growing demand and capture more than our fair share of the revenue that comes from it.

That is why Pulse Canada led a study to examine the environmental and economic impacts of blending lentils with beef. As it turned out, a beef burger reformulated with one-third lentils shows a significantly improved carbon footprint with 33% fewer greenhouse gas emissions. This is on top of having 12% fewer calories and costing 27% less. It’s easy to see the potential. A lentil/beef burger isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine. But as long as consumers and companies want to lower the carbon footprint of their food, we want to make Canadian pulses a solutions provider and allow growers to reap the reward.

Lowering the carbon footprint of food can be accomplished beyond blends. Animal feed matters too — and pulses can help. In fact, research commissioned by Pulse Canada has shown that including peas into swine-feed rations can have a major impact on reducing hog production’s environmental footprint. The findings were clear: through a change in hogs’ rations towards a pea-based diet, producers can cut out 28% of the greenhouse gas emissions of the feed, which, in turn, lowers the end product’s carbon footprint by up to 18%.

This is precisely the type of message we are taking to food processors and end-use manufacturers through our Sustainability Campaign. Launched in December, this campaign takes the latest data on the environmental benefits of pulses and targets food and feed manufacturers to leverage pulses in their products. While it’s still early days, this campaign has seen strong performance in its first few months and we look forward to sharing the results with our members.

Solutions exist to help lower our carbon footprint within modern agriculture. In fact, to build on our success, we need market- driven policies that foster the growth of our innovative agricultural sector. This spring, Canada’s pulse industry will launch an Environmental and Economic Impact Report that shows the Canadian pulse industry’s important role in lowering our country’s carbon footprint while increasing our economic output. This is a message decision-makers in Ottawa need to have top-of-mind as they work to create the next agriculture policy framework and as we advocate across the government for the policies necessary to grow our industry.

We will continue to work on your behalf to ensure sustainability is a market advantage for Canadian pulse growers. If you have any questions related to our work on sustainability, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. ■