Alexandra Wiffen 

Alexandra Wiffen

Institution: Cranfield University

Improving the environmental performance of beef production using Life Cycle Analysis (LCA)

Farmers are under increasing pressure to deliver products with reduced environmental burdens. This is due to global warming (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide), acidification (ammonia) and eutrophication (nitrate). There is a need to assess and present the environmental credentials of the beef industry and identify the best practice and scope for improvements. The analysis must use an approach that encompasses all of the production system so as to ensure an improvement in one part does not have undesirable consequences elsewhere. LCA is such a holistic environmental assessment tool.  An emphasis on the functional unit is a key aspect and in this case, to produce one tonne of beef of defined quality.

The objective of this research is to develop a national level LCA, previously produced by Cranfield University, to a farm-level model. This will be achieved from using specific farm data collected from a representative sample of the British beef industry. This development will ensure the ability to compare the benefits of alternatives, not previously possible. It will also provide answers to the following questions:

  • Can changing feed reduce GWP (global warming potential)?
  • Can fewer imports, more grass and more by-products be used?
  • Can food conversion ratio be improved?
  • Does this produce the same meat quality?

The project began in September 2009 and the detailed data required from various methods of beef farming have been collected and the analysis has now commenced.

The findings will be used to identify and compare the best and average practices.

The final stage of the research will be to examine the effects of changing the feeding systems and feed composition on the environmental burdens of producing beef of defined quality.

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