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System expansion and allocation in life cycle assessment of milk and beef production

Abstract

Background, Goal and Scope

System expansion is a method used to avoid co-product allocation. Up to this point in time it has seldom been used in LCA studies of food products, although food production systems often are characterised by closely interlinked sub-systems. One of the most important allocation problems that occurs in LCAs of agricultural products is the question of how to handle the co-product beef from milk production since almost half of the beef production in the EU is derived from co-products from the dairy sector. The purpose of this paper is to compare different methods of handling co-products when dividing the environmental burden of the milk production system between milk and the co-products meat and surplus calves.

Main Features

This article presents results from an LCA of organic milk production in which different methods of handling the co-products are examined. The comparison of different methods of co-product handling is based on a Swedish LCA case study of milk production where economic allocation between milk and meat was initially used. Allocation of the co-products meat and surplus calves was avoided by expanding the milk system. LCA data were collected from another case study where the alternative way of producing meat was analysed, i.e. using a beef cow that produces one calf per annum to be raised for one and a half year. The LCA of beef production was included in the milk system. A discussion is conducted focussing on the importance of modelling and analysing milk and beef production in an integrated way when foreseeing and planning the environmental consequences of manipulating milk and beef production systems.

Results

This study shows that economic allocation between milk and beef favours the product beef. When system expansion is performed, the environmental benefits of milk production due to its co-products of surplus calves and meat become obvious. This is especially connected to the impact categories that describe the potential environmental burden of biogenic emissions such as methane and ammonia and nitrogen losses due to land use and its fertilising. The reason for this is that beef production in combination with milk can be carried out with fewer animals than in sole beef production systems.

Conclusion, Recommendation and Perspective

Milk and beef production systems are closely connected. Changes in milk production systems will cause alterations in beef production systems. It is concluded that in prospective LCA studies, system expansion should be performed to obtain adequate information of the environmental consequences of manipulating production systems that are interlinked to each other.

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Correspondence to Christel Cederberg or Magnus Stadig.

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Cederberg, C., Stadig, M. System expansion and allocation in life cycle assessment of milk and beef production. Int J LCA 8, 350–356 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02978508

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Keywords

  • Allocation
  • beef production
  • life cycle assessment (LCA)
  • methane-emissions
  • milk production
  • organic agriculture
  • system expansion