Ethical aspects of life cycle assessments of diets
Since the turn of the century a growing chorus of researchers has been espousing reduced meat and dairy intake as a partial strategy to transition towards a sustainable food system. Many of these studies have been predicated on a life-cycle assessment (LCA) methodology and though transparent in communicating their work within that framework, it has largely gone unmentioned that LCA involves a number of choices by the assessor and LCA methodology developers that are ultimately subjective. This study uses a consequential LCA of the average Danish diet in comparison to model vegetarian and vegan diets, leveraging the cultural perspectives afforded by the ReCiPe methodology, as starting point to explore the ways that subjectivity influences the LCA process and to test the robustness of the results against these different viewpoints. Mirroring earlier studies, we find vegetarian and vegan diets generally perform better environmentally compared to a standard Danish diet, but that there was minimal difference between the two no-meat options. Results were resilient to varying cultural perspectives applied in the model. LCA methodology, though loaded with value judgments, remains a dependable tool for assessing environmental dietary performance, but is less suited for estimating environmental pressures that are highly dependent on local conditions (e.g. chemical toxicity).
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