Global Salmon Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA)
The Global Salmon LCA is the first worldwide life-cycle assessment (LCA) of a single food product. Lead partners in the project are Dalhousie University, Ecotrust, and SIK — The Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology.
LCA provides a systematic framework for calculating inputs and outputs at each stage of a product life cycle. Utilizing this framework, we examine the salmon fillet, icon of the global food system, and compare alternative methods of production and distribution. We evaluate global environmental impacts and expand on a traditional LCA to consider additional impacts specific to nearby ecosystems and social welfare. This analysis allows us to identify opportunities for improved performance in both aquaculture and capture fisheries — while building a more robust understanding of sustainable food systems.
Understandings that have emerged from LCAs of food products include: (1) Food provision accounts for a significant percentage of global environmental impacts; and (2) The impacts of food production vary according to practices, production systems and geographies. For example, a study of different strawberry production methods in the United Kingdom found a six-fold variation in emissions of greenhouse gases. Similarly, studies of chicken farming in the UK have found a three-fold variation between production practices. In the Global Salmon LCA, we ensure a standardization of results by applying a formal LCA framework to an analysis of a single food product at a global scale.
We examine the salmon fillet as an example of an international supercommodity. It is one of the most widely consumed seafood products in the world, and the two modes of production — capture fisheries and aquaculture — offer highly substitutable final products. We study three main production regions: the North-East Pacific (Alaska and British Columbia), the North-East Atlantic (Norway and Scotland), and Chile.
In addition to the global environmental impacts commonly examined in LCA research, such as global warming potential and energy use, we make progress on incorporating environmental concerns that are specific to salmon harvest and production at regional ecosystem scales, including habitat impacts and depression of wild salmon stocks. We also assess performance according to indicators of social welfare, such as fair wages and worker safety. These two areas of assessment represent methodological extensions to traditional LCA, and our work remains consistent with the LCA methodology standardized under ISO 14040-14043.
We have recently issued a press release on the study, and we will continue to disseminate findings in a series of factsheets until research and publishing is completed in 2010.