LCA studies of food products as background for environmental product declarations
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- Schau, E.M. & Fet, A.M. Int J Life Cycle Assess (2008) 13: 255. doi:10.1065/lca2007.12.372
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Goal, Scope and Background
Food production systems invariably precipitate negative environmental impacts. Life cycle assessment (LCA), a standardised tool for evaluating the environmental costs of manufactured goods, is currently being expanded to address diverse product groups and production processes. Among these is food production, where the technosphere is tightly interlinked with the biosphere. The goal of this paper is to contribute to exploring the suitable functional units, system boundaries and allocation procedures for LCA in food production in general, and the product category rules (PCR) and environmental product declaration (EPD) for food products in specific.
A review of published scientific articles and conference papers treating LCA of food products is used to highlight and discuss different ways of defining the goal and scope of the LCA of food products, with an emphasis on defining the functional unit, setting the system boundaries and choosing a co-product allocation method.
Different ways of choosing the production system and system boundaries, functional unit and co-product allocation procedure are shown and discussed. The most commonly used functional unit is based on mass, but there are more sophisticated ways of expressing the functional unit for food products, like protein and energy content. A quality corrected functional unit (QCFU) is proposed.
Choice of the functional unit is highly dependent on the aim of the study. Mass or volume may be more relevant, as a basis for the functional unit, than land use. However, other qualities of the food product like nutrient content, like energy content, fat content, protein content or a combination thereof, would be a more sophisticated functional unit for food products.
Conclusions and Recommendations
While LCA methodology is a valuable tool in conducting environmental impact assessments of food products, further methodological development to account for food-specific functions, like nutrient content, is needed. To facilitate a valid comparison between different products, system boundary description and functional units need further development and standardisation. A more sophisticated choice of a functional unit, taking nutreint content of the food into consideration in addition to mass, could both reflect the function of the food better and provide a solution to the coproduct allocation problem that exists for some food products.