Environmental impacts of Australian beef and lamb exported from Australia to the USA evaluated using life cycle assessment

Stephen Wiedemann, FSA Consulting
Mingjia Yan, FSA Consulting
Caoilinn Murphy, FSA Consulting
Beverley Henry, Agri-Escondo
Stewart Ledgard, Ag Research
Greg Thoma, University of Arkansas

There is growing interest in the environmental sustainability of traded food products worldwide, and some cases misconceptions still exist regarding the importance of transport distance to environmental impacts. The USA is an important export destination for Australian lamb and to a lesser extent niche grass-fed beef products. This study aimed to quantify the impacts of production, processing and transport of Australian red meat products to the USA. The study investigated energy demand, water use, land occupation, greenhouse gas emissions and stress-weighted water use. The specified end-point was ‘one kilogram of boxed, retail beef or lamb at the cold storage warehouse in the eastern USA’. Lamb and beef was sourced from major production regions in eastern Australia.

Energy demand was 27.9 MJ / kg retail lamb and 26.2 MJ / kg boneless grass-fed beef. Stress weighted water use was 286.7 L H2O-e / kg lamb and 106.4 L H2O-e / kg boneless grass-fed beef. Occupation of cultivated arable land averaged 4.6 m2 / kg lamb and 2.4 m2 / kg boneless grass-fed beef. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were 15.9 kg CO2-e / kg lamb and 28.3 kg CO2-e / kg boneless grass-fed beef. The farm production system contributed the majority of impacts across all categories, with transport and storage collectively contributing ≤5% to all impact categories with the exception of energy use, where the contribution was higher. These results suggest that the impacts from the transport of red meat, even where these distances are large, are not a significant driver of the environmental impact of this product.