The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 768-782

First online:

Exploring variability in methods and data sensitivity in carbon footprints of feed ingredients

  • Corina E. van MiddelaarAffiliated withAnimal Production Systems Group, Wageningen University Email author 
  • , Christel CederbergAffiliated withSIK—The Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology
  • , Theun V. VellingaAffiliated withWageningen UR Livestock Research, Animal Science Group
  • , Hayo M. G. van der WerfAffiliated withINRA, UMR 1069 Sol Agro et hydro SystèmeAgrocampus Ouest
  • , Imke J. M. de BoerAffiliated withAnimal Production Systems Group, Wageningen University

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Production of feed is an important contributor to life cycle greenhouse gas emissions, or carbon footprints (CFPs), of livestock products. Consequences of methodological choices and data sensitivity on CFPs of feed ingredients were explored to improve comparison and interpretation of CFP studies. Methods and data for emissions from cultivation and processing, land use (LU), and land use change (LUC) were analyzed.


For six ingredients (maize, wheat, palm kernel expeller, rapeseed meal, soybean meal, and beet pulp), CFPs resulting from a single change in methods and data were compared with a reference CFP, i.e., based on IPCC Tier 1 methods, and data from literature.

Results and discussion

Results show that using more detailed methods to compute N2O emissions from cultivation hardly affected reference CFPs, except for methods to determine \( \mathrm{NO}_3^{-} \) leaching (contributing to indirect N2O emissions) in which the influence is about −7 to +12 %. Overall, CFPs appeared most sensitive to changes in crop yield and applied synthetic fertilizer N. The inclusion of LULUC emissions can change CFPs considerably, i.e., up to 877 %. The level of LUC emissions per feed ingredient highly depends on the method chosen, as well as on assumptions on area of LUC, C stock levels (mainly aboveground C and soil C), and amortization period.


We concluded that variability in methods and data can significantly affect CFPs of feed ingredients and hence CFPs of livestock products. Transparency in methods and data is therefore required. For harmonization, focus should be on methods to calculate \( \mathrm{NO}_3^{-} \) leaching and emissions from LULUC. It is important to consider LUC in CFP studies of food, feed, and bioenergy products.


Carbon footprint Feed ingredients Feed production Inventory data Livestock products Methods