Analysis of resource use and greenhouse gas emissions from four Australian meat production systems, with investigation of mitigation opportunities and trade-offs

Stephen Wiedemann

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

One major challenge of the 21st century is to increase food production to meet the needs of a growing global population, while minimising negative impacts to the environment. This study conducted a series of attributional life cycle assessment (aLCA) studies, to determine greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, energy demand, water use, water stress, crop land occupation and human edible protein required (HEPR) for Australian meat products. The study applied consistent methods and system boundaries to establish benchmarks, determine impact hotspots, trade-offs and mitigation opportunities. The effect of different production systems and regions, and the sensitivity of GHG emission methods was also investigated. Knowledge gaps and future research needs have been identified. The results provide the first consistent, multi-industry dataset covering Australian beef, lamb, pork and chicken meat, enabling analysis of issues that are relevant to multiple industries. Foreground data from more than 80 case study farms (CSF) and 19 meat processing plants were compiled and augmented with regional (RAF) or national scale farm datasets. Results were standardised to report impacts relative to one kilogram of boneless, fat corrected meat. The results showed that GHG emissions were high for beef, lamb
and wool in comparison to pork and chicken meat. In contrast, crop land occupation and human edible protein required (HEPR) was high for pork and chicken meat, revealing a significant trade-off between these indicators. Smaller differences were observed between species with respect to energy demand, and water impacts were found to be highly regionally sensitive. Across all meat production systems, water impacts were lower than reported previously in global analyses. Mitigations were identified that reduced environmental impact across multiple impact categories, while others showed that substantial trade-offs between different impact categories. Further research and extension should focus on strategies that reduce multiple impacts rather than focusing on only one area, such as GHG emissions.

This thesis demonstrated the substantial contribution made by this body of work to GHG emission estimation methods in the Australian National Inventory Report (NIR) and to global livestock LCA methods. This research focused on meat
production systems through to production of a wholesale product. Further research is required to cover the full ‘cradle-to-grave’ of meat production, consumption and disposal, to inform consumers of the impact of meat consumption. Where information is sought to inform a choice between one meat and another, new analyses using cLCA methods are required. To advance this, there is an urgent need for new methods, data and research capacity to be developed in this area.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Friend, Michael, Principal Supervisor
  • Simmons, Aaron T, Principal Supervisor, External person
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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