Framework for life cycle assessment of livestock production systems to account for the nutritional quality of final products

Graham A. McAuliffe, Taro Takahashi*, Michael R.F. Lee

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
438 Downloads (Pure)


Life cycle assessment (LCA) is widely regarded as a useful tool for comparing the environmental impacts of multiple livestock production systems. While LCA results are typically communicated in the form of environmental burdens per mass unit of the end product, it is increasingly becoming recognized that the product quality also needs to be accounted for to truly understand the value of a farming system to society. To date, a number of studies have examined environmental consequences of different food consumption patterns at the diet level; however, few have addressed nutritional variations of a single commodity attributable to production systems, leaving limited insight into how on-farm practices can be improved to better balance environment and human nutrition. Using data from seven livestock production systems encompassing cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry, this paper proposes a novel framework to incorporate nutritional value of meat products into livestock LCA. The results of quantitative case studies demonstrate that relative emissions intensities associated with different systems can be dramatically altered when the nutrient content of meat replaces the mass of meat as the functional unit, with cattle systems outperforming pig and poultry systems in some cases. This finding suggests that the performance of livestock systems should be evaluated under a whole supply chain approach, whereby end products originating from different farm management strategies are treated as competing but separate commodities.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere00143
Number of pages13
JournalFood and Energy Security
Issue number3
Early online date1 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018


  • environmental footprints
  • farm management
  • human nutrition
  • nutrient index
  • omega-3
  • sustainable agriculture

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