Review and expert survey of allocation methods used in life cycle assessment of milk and beef

Volumen:  27   |  Pages:  191–204   |  Year of Publication:  2021  | License:  CC BY 4.0

What is the objective?

This study reviews the life cycle assessment (LCA) of beef and dairy production systems, particularly the allocation methods used in these analyses in relation to beef by-products.

Our Short Summary.

LCA results of beef and dairy products differ considerably depending on the impact allocation method used for by-products. The study reviews various available impact allocation methods and seeks to provide clarity when to use which one. As the demand for diverse materials from the Circular Economy grows, the review also concludes that inedible outputs of these systems (bone, hides, internal organs and manure) should be recognized as products and included in future LCA studies.

Why you should read it!

This paper is an interesting read for those interested in improving the sustainability of LCA methods used for evaluating the impact of beef and dairy production systems, particularly for sustainability practitioners, LCA researchers and system thinkers.

Original Abstract


Beef and dairy production systems produce several by-products, such as fertilizers, bioenergy, hides, and pet foods, among which the environmental impacts arising from production should be allocated. The choice of allocation method therefore inevitably affects the results of life cycle assessment (LCA) for milk and beef. The aims of this study were to map out the different allocation methods used in dairy and beef LCA studies and to clarify the rationale for selecting a certain method.


A literature review was conducted to identify the different allocation methods used in LCA studies of milk and beef production and the products using beef by-products as a raw material. The justifications for the use of different methods in the studies were also collected. To map out the perspectives of LCA practitioners and further clarify the reasoning behind the use of certain allocation methods, a mixed method survey with quantitative questions and qualitative explanatory fields was sent to the authors included in the literature review.

Results and discussion

The literature review showed that the most commonly used allocation method between milk and meat
was biophysical allocation, which is also the recommended method in LCA guidelines of milk production. Economic allocation was the second most common method, although the rationale for using economic allocation was weak. By-products, such as inedible body parts, were not considered in milk studies and were taken into account in only a small number of beef studies. This might be because most of the studies have cradle-to-farm gate system boundaries. According to the survey, a significantly higher share of LCA practitioners would allocate impacts also to these by-products.


The allocation is usually done between milk and meat, and other by-products are not taken into account. Since these materials are an unavoidable part of production and there are numerous uses for them, these outputs should be recognized as products and also taken into consideration in LCA studies.


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