The aim of this paper is to examine the environmental consequences of beef meat production in the EU, using a life cycle approach. Four beef production systems were studied - three from intensively reared dairy calves and one from suckler herds. According to the results of the analysis, the contributions from the production of 1 kg beef meat (slaughter weight) to global warming, acidification, eutrophication, land use and non-renewable energy use were lower for beef from dairy calves than from suckler herds (16.0-19.9 versus 27.3 kg CO2e, 101-173 versus 210 g SO2e, 622-1140 versus 1651 g NO3e, 16.5-22.7 versus 42.9 m2year, and 41.3-48.2 versus 59.2 MJ, respectively). The breakdown analysis helped identify the key areas in the "cradle to farm gate" beef production system where sustainable management strategies are needed to improve environmental performance. The study also included a sensitivity analysis to preliminarily estimate GHG emissions from beef production systems if land opportunity cost and land use change related to grazing and feed crop production for beef were taken into account. If so, the contribution from the production of 1 kg beef to global warming would increase by a factor of 3.1-3.9, based on a depreciation period of 20 years. This highlights the importance of taking into account the impacts of land use in assessing the environmental impacts of livestock production.
Journal of Cleaner Production, 2010, Vol 18, Issue 8, p. 756-766