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Applying the nutrient footprint method to the beef production and consumption chain

Joensuu, Katri, Pulkkinen, Hannele, Kurppa, Sirpa, Ypyä, Jenni, Virtanen, Yrjö
The international journal of life cycle assessment 2019 v.24 no.1 pp. 26-36
beef, beef cattle, beef production, food chain, life cycle assessment, nitrogen, nutrient use efficiency, nutrients, phosphorus
PURPOSE: An indicator of nutrient use efficiency through the entire food chain has been lacking. This article proposes a nutrient footprint method to estimate the efficiency of using both nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) in animal production chains following Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). METHODS: Following the nutrient footprint method of Grönman et al. (2016), we applied the nutrient footprint method to the Finnish beef production and consumption chain. We defined N and P flows associated with the beef chain from a product-specific point of view. The nutrient footprint is a resource efficiency indicator which combines the amount of nutrients captured for use in the production and consumption chain and their nutrient use efficiency (NutUE) either in the primary product or in both the primary + secondary products. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: Each 1000 kg of Finnish beef consumed requires 1700 kg N and 189 kg P during its life cycle. The percentage of virgin nutrient is more than 50% for N, but only 25% for P. NutUE in the primary product and in both primary + secondary products for N is 1% and 47% and for P is 0.2% and 74%, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: The nutrient footprint offers information about NutUE in a simple and comparable form. In transition towards systems with sustainable nutrient use, it is essential to identify hot spots of nutrient leakage to be able to close them and improve food chains.