Knowledge for better food systems

Showing results for: Life cycle analysis

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is the most common method used for quantifying environmental impacts and resource use throughout the entire lifecycle of a product or service. Taking into account all the stages of production, from raw material inputs through to (agricultural) production, manufacture, distribution, transport, use and disposal, LCA aims to make a fair and holistic assessment of one or more products or production methods. Comparisons between different LCA studies, while in theory an invaluable tool for businesses and consumers wishing to reduce their environmental footprint, face various difficulties. For example, two studies examining the environmental impacts of a type of fruit may differ in the variables which they choose to include and the scope of their analysis. In addition, the data on which they rely may be more or less reliable, may differ even when the same input is being considered, or be recorded at different times.

25 April 2017

This research links the self-reported Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ) data of Swedish participants, to Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) data of carbon footprint for food products. The results of this study indicate that a self-selected diet low in diet related greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) provides comparable intake of nutrients as a diet high in GHGE, and adheres to dietary guidelines for most nutrients.

19 April 2017

In this letter to the editor in Nature, the authors challenge simplified dietary strategies used in lifecycle assessment (LCA) based studies. Citing a paper that presents the LCA of three dietary scenarios for a basket of food products (representative of EU consumption) they argue that “it is irresponsible to present environmentally motivated dietary strategies... that conflict with longstanding public health nutrition objectives.”. 

12 April 2017

This summary has been provided by FCRN member Alessandro Cerutti from the European Commission Joint Research Centre (JRC).

Public administrations such as schools, hospitals and other sectors are well aware of the effort required to manage all the stages of the catering service, from menu selection through to waste management. Several strategies hold potential to reduce the environmental impacts throughout these stages, especially in the context of the Green Public Procurement (GPP). Unfortunately, despite the best of intentions, budget constraints are constantly forcing managers to make difficult trade-offs.

24 March 2017

This research article provides a new quantitative analysis of data on global feed use and feed use efficiency by livestock, in order to help shed light on livestock’s role in food security.

8 February 2017

This article by T.C. Ponsioen of Wageningen University, and H.M.G. van der Werf of INRA, discusses the major sources of inconsistency in life cycle assessment (LCA) analyses of food and drink, and makes recommendations to address these inconsistencies. The article begins by describing the many attempts that have been made to standardise (or ‘harmonise’) environmental footprints of food and drink, and identifies five main areas which lack consensus.

24 October 2016

At a time when interest in the sustainability of food is increasing, the need for well-defined, interdisciplinary metrics of the sustainability of diets is evident. In this study, a group of researchers from Michigan performed a systematic literature review of empirical research studies on sustainable diets to identify the components of sustainability that were measured and the methods applied to do so.

18 October 2016

While insects have physiological and biological differences which make them more efficient than traditional livestock species, little information exists pertaining to the factors which influence the assessment of the environmental sustainability of insects and their subsequent production systems. 

11 October 2016

An academic debate on the controversial possibility of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions via increased beef production in the Brazilian Cerrado finds a new set of commentators, who have responded to an original paper by de Oliveira Silva et al. earlier in 2016 in the same journal, Nature Climate Change.

6 September 2016

Performing full life cycle assessment on foods and diets is a data- and resource-intensive undertaking and as a result many studies tend to adopt a simplified approach, for example by limiting the number of food studied (in the case of diets), using proxy data, or limiting the system boundaries (cradle to farm gate; cradle to retailer – ie. not the full cradle to the consumer’s mouth).

16 August 2016

This paper provides a detailed case study of the history and controversy surrounding the proposed inclusion of sustainability information in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) – a body composed of nutritionists, physicians, and public health experts, tasked with reviewing the evidence base for the guidelines every 5 years.

28 June 2016

Nanotechnology – the designing of ultra-small particles – is part of the evolving science of precision agriculture, and could potentially solve some of the world’s most pressing problems at the food-energy-water nexus as it requires fewer natural resources and water, and enhances plant nutritional values. 

17 December 2015

This paper by FCRN member Corné van Dooren and colleague Harry Aiking has been published in the International Journal of LCA. The study quantifies the historical Dutch diet of 80 years ago, based on cultural history research. The researchers calculate the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE) and land use (LU) of this diet, using actual LCA data for the 206 most consumed products, and the health score, based on ten nutritional characteristics.

11 September 2015

Unsustainable patterns of consumption and production threaten global development and environmental well-being. Ensuring sustainable consumption and production should take a life cycle approach, and central to this is the development of product sustainability information (PSI).

This publication provides four key recommendations in order to advance a coherent and context-relevant use of PSI that is useful for consumer decision-making:

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