Date of this Version
With the increasing meat demand and awareness of sustainability, concerns have been raised regarding the sustainability of beef production and processing. However, scarce data and inadequate sustainability assessment frameworks for the U.S. beef processing industry limit the ability to develop new technologies and policies comprehensively without shifting sustainability burdens. To fill those gaps, various assessments of the U.S. beef processing industry were conducted from multiple perspectives regarding the environmental, economic, microbial effectiveness of its antimicrobial systems, and human health impacts from foodborne illness, occupational hazards, and environmental pollution.
First, process-level water and energy usage at a typical large-size beef processing plant were benchmarked and compared to available data in the literature, and then opportunities were identified for water and energy reduction. The collected inventory data were subsequently utilized as inputs to assessment models. Second, the environmental and economic sustainability of three antimicrobial systems deployed in commercial beef processing industry were evaluated. The results show that chemicals, natural gas, and wastewater dominate all environmental impact indicators and antimicrobial systems with thermal pasteurization resulting in meat discoloring that can reduce revenue. Third, the study scope of sustainability assessment of antimicrobial systems was broadened. Specifically, 40 possible combinations of antimicrobial systems were analyzed, and the analysis incorporated the microbial effectiveness via meta-regression with the environmental and economic assessment. The evaluation identified that the use of steam results in the best combination of low cost and environmental impact, and high microbial reduction.
Fourth, the trade-offs between foodborne illness, environmental impacts, and occupational hazards on human health from the U.S. beef slaughtering and consumption were investigated. The results show that the three impacts on are the same magnitude and 42% of environmental impacts on human health is from processes directly related to microbial food safety. Potentially reductions in foodborne pathogens achieved by resource-intensive food safety interventions should be considered jointly with environmental impacts and occupational hazards to prevent unintended shifts or increases in human health impact. Last, environmental impacts of beef processing via an integrated hybrid LCA were quantified to incorporate environmental impacts embedded with background economic activities, such as technical and financial services.
Advisors: Bruce Dvorak and Jeyamkondan Subbiah