Considering the Role of Life Cycle Analysis in Holistic Food Systems Research Policy and Practice


  • Andrew Berardy Arizona State University
  • Thomas Seager Arizona State University
  • Christine Costello The Pennsylvania State University
  • Christopher Wharton Arizona State University



Food Systems, Life Cycle Assessment, Research and Policy, Sustainability


Researchers use life cycle assessment (LCA) to evaluate the environmental impacts of foods, providing useful information to other researchers, policy-makers, consumers, and manufacturers. However, LCA is ill-equipped to account for desirable, often normatively valued, characteristics of food systems, such as redundancy, that could be considered more sustainable from a resilience perspective. LCA’s requirement of a functional unit also causes methodological bias favoring efficiency over resilience and other difficult-to-quantify properties. This efficiency bias results in favorable evaluations of conventional production techniques and plant-based foods since they typically have the lowest impacts per unit of output when compared to alternative agriculture systems and animal-based foods. Such research findings may drive policy-makers as well as consumers to prefer the more efficient options, with the possible outcome of diminishing resilience. This research and policy commentary explains why complementary assessment methodologies are necessary for comprehensive sustainability assessments that support researchers, policy-makers, and other relevant stakeholders in decision-making for food systems sustainability. In addition to LCA, researchers examining food systems sustainability issues should consider integrating other frameworks and methods such as life cycle sustainability assessments, sustainable materialism, backcasting and scenario building, and food systems assessments to help generate a holistic understanding of the systems being analyzed.


Metrics Loading ...

Author Biographies

Andrew Berardy, Arizona State University

Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems, Arizona State University.

Dr. Berardy is now in the Department of Environmental Nutrition, Loma Linda University

Thomas Seager, Arizona State University

School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment

Christine Costello, The Pennsylvania State University

Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering and The Rock Ethics Institute

Christopher Wharton, Arizona State University

Radical Simplicity Lab, College of Health Solutions



How to Cite

Berardy, A., Seager, T., Costello, C., & Wharton, C. (2020). Considering the Role of Life Cycle Analysis in Holistic Food Systems Research Policy and Practice. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 9(4), 209–227.