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Source: Council for Agricultural Science & Technology news release

Marty Matlock, University of Arkansas, Task Force Chair and Lead Author
Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to identify all the inputs and outputs necessary to make a product and quantify the associated environmental and socioeconomic impacts. In its simplest form, the LCA method describes the inputs (e.g. energy, materials, and resources) to a process and all the resulting outputs including the desired product (functional unit), other co- or by-products, and the emissions and losses to the environment. Each input is itself the product of another upstream process.

So, LCA provides a modeling framework to link all processes together such that the sum of the inputs and outputs of all involved processes are included. This framework can be very complex, depending on how many upstream processes and downstream outputs relative to the functional unit are included in the assessment. LCA provides a system perspective that considers a product's life cycle and quantifies the relevant impacts caused by it.

The application of LCA findings is wide ranging from corporate decision-making on product development and marketing (e.g. environmental product declarations and eco-labelling) to policy development, evaluation, and implementation. The agricultural and food communities need to familiarize themselves with LCA use and interpretation because of the growing emphasis on its use to examine and quantify the impacts of agricultural production and its growing influence on private and public sector decision-making.

Objectives and Key Issues Addressed in this paper and webinar.
What is life cycle assessment (LCA) and how is it applied to study environmental and socioeconomic impacts in Agriculture and Food

What are LCA goals, strengths and limitations and how do they affect the interpretation of LCA results?

How can LCA results guide future agricultural and food research

How can LCA results inform non-technical stakeholders including policy and industry decision-makers

How can LCA results be used to educate the public about food and agriculture

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