UK DEFRA: Comparative life-cycle assessment of food commodities

This is a “for reference” post on a study of the life cycle environmental footprint of UK-consumed food. The study was funded by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The scope of the study was limited to seven products that are produced in the UK in more than trivial quantities. No effort was invested in attempts to identify the most environmentally friendly international supplier. Instead representative sources were analyzed – e.g., NZ lamb, Spanish strawberries. Nevertheless, it seems to be a credible study.  

(…) A life cycle inventory (LCI) was first produced for each commodity and then a life cycle analysis (LCA) associating inventory data with specific environmental impacts. Each included established LCA criteria including: primary energy use (PEU); global warming potential (GWP); acidification; eutrophication; abiotic resource use; pesticide use; land requirement. Comparative inventories were produced from the first point of pre-production to the Retail Distribution Centre (RDC) in the UK for all seven commodities. The system boundary was through to the RDC, rather than the consumer, as all steps post RDC will be common to UK and non-UK food. The functional units are weight based (e.g. per tonne at the RDC). The study then progressed to a life cycle impact assessment, i.e. associating inventory data with specific environmental impacts. Estimates of the comparative effects on wider eco-services have also been made.