John Antle, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at Oregon State University, mentioned two additional methodologies that could be used to analyze environmental externalities of the food system: cost-benefit analysis and multidimensional impact assessment. He elaborated on multidimensional impact assessment, emphasizing its reliance on modeling. He also elaborated on some of the major challenges to relying on modeling as a means to quantify externalities. Key among them is the vast heterogeneity that exists in the food system, especially with respect to production (e.g., large- versus small-scale production) and geography, and implications of that heterogeneity for collecting and analyzing data.
Finally, James Hammitt, professor of economics and decision sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health, described how risk assessment could be used to analyze the health outcomes of exposure to a wide range of food system–related stressors; identified sources of data for analysis; and explained how health effects are valued and quantified. Hammitt also discussed, more broadly, the challenge of measuring externalities in the context of noneconomic behavior. He explained that the concept of externality is not very well defined outside the classical economic model. According to classical economic theory, individuals behave as fully informed rational agents. In the “real world,” nonmarket factors influence how people behave.
“Eating is an agricultural act.”
LCA is a tool for examining the environmental impact of a product. Marty Heller remarked that the defining characteristic of LCA is its “cradle-to-grave” perspective. LCA covers not just the impacts of manufacturing, but also the impacts of the upstream production chain (e.g., material extraction [i.e., mining], fuels and transportation, etc.) and downstream disposal (e.g., recycling, landfilling, etc.). Heller provided an overview of the history of the LCA methodology, described the three main stages of a typical LCA, and discussed how LCA is used and could be used to study the food system.
History of LCA
Heller described the current state of LCA methodology as being in a “mid- to late adolescent stage.” The first LCA studies were conducted in the late 1960s and early 1970s on the impacts of different beverage containers, initially for Coca-Cola and later for the U.S. Environmental
1 This section summarizes the presentation of Marty Heller.