Consequential LCA of Dairy Production in the United States

Mei Yuan, University of Texas School of Public Health
Xueiing Zhang, University of Texas School of Public Health
Ying Wang, Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy
Olivier Jolliet, University of Michigan School of Public Health
Andrew Henderson, University of Texas School of Public Health

Driven by works such as Livestock’s Long Shadow (Steinfeld et al. 2006), and by demands from corporations for increased understanding of sustainability, several studies have evaluated impacts of dairy production by considering a broader, life cycle perspective (Cederberg et al. 2000; Heller et al. 2011; van der Werf et al. 2009; Thoma et al. 2013). They have identified a host of potential environmental challenges for dairy production, including land use and nutrient cycling (von Keyserlingk et al. 2013).

Increasing global food scarcity and resource competition (Godfray et al. 2010) and trends toward more protein-rich diets (Smil 2002), make it relevant to understand and illustrate the role of dairy as part of sustainable food production systems. We therefore are conducting consequential life cycle analysis of changes in dairy production and consumption to understand how environmental (with a focus on land use and water quality/quantity effects) and social (employment) changes vary with diet.

This consequential LCA is centered around three diet scenarios, including the current dairy level (1.7 serving per person per day), a high level (3 servings), and the absence of dairy product (0 servings). As diet shifts, model diets will reflect nutritional needs, considering various scenarios of grain and meat substitution (e.g., Fulgoni III et al. 2011). In the high consumption scenario, a variety of combinations of milk and cheese is used to augment current consumption. We adapt and further develop models to link the dairy changes to changes in land use and water quality/quantity, and on changes in employment in US. A spatially resolved model is used to analyze impacts of land use changes in US (e.g., Lubowski et al. 2008; Barr et al. 2011). United States Input-Output (IO) models are applied to estimate the impacts of dairy consumption change on the change of employment in US (Matthews et al. 2000; Lenzen et al. 2013).

Results of the ongoing research compare the dairy production scenarios across four groups of outcomes: agricultural land / nutrient cycling, environmental effects and employment. Land use, and the possibility of producing human food from non-cropland, will be quantified, including land quality and competition with other uses. A thorough suite of land-related ecosystem service will be assessed with recently updated LCA methods, including biodiversity (de Baan et al. 2013), water regulation and quality (Saad et al. 2013), soil organic matter (Milà i Canals et al. 2007), soil compaction (Garrigues et al. 2013), and desertification (Civit et al. 2013). Finally, we will assess economic impacts, such as newly generated job types, number of work hours, etc. This study will provide a critical life cycle perspective on the role of dairy in the food system.


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