Combining life cycle assessment and economic modelling to assess environmental impacts of agricultural policies: the case of the French ruminant sector

  • Thibault Salou
  • Chantal Le Mouël
  • Fabrice Levert
  • Agneta Forslund
  • Hayo M. G. van der Werf



Numerous policy instruments are applied to agricultural production in the European Union (EU27). Implementing them may significantly influence environmental impacts of agricultural production. A consequential life cycle assessment (CLCA) approach was used to investigate potential environmental impacts of two EU27 policy instruments: dairy quota removal and implementation of a grass premium in the EU27.


MATSIM-LUCA, a partial equilibrium model of global agricultural markets, was used to assess market effects of policy instrument changes and to identify the processes affected. Land use change and intensification of crop production were also considered. Outputs of the model were used to feed the CLCA.

Results and discussion

Quota removal led to a predicted increase in production of cow milk, dairy cull cows and beef cows in the EU27, while avoided beef cow production was located outside the EU27. Per functional unit, the additional milk production in France had lower environmental impacts than average French milk before quota removal, mostly due to avoided beef cow production in the USA. After implementation of the grass premium, cattle diets in the EU27 were predicted to contain less concentrates and more grass. Increased demand for grass led to grassland expansion at the expense of cropland, and finally to an increased area needed to produce similar quantities of ruminant products. Intensification of crop production in the EU27 occurred at the same time, however, thus reducing competition for land among different agricultural land uses but increasing environmental impacts of crop production when expressed per hectare. Environmental impacts of the additional hectares used to produce ruminant products were negative for most impact categories.


This study provides an initial attempt to assess environmental impacts of policy instrument changes in the ruminant sector through CLCA by combining economic modelling and LCA. Using an economic model allows the identification of the main effects of policy instrument changes in complex interconnected markets, such as agricultural ones. Nonetheless, inconsistencies between the economic and LCA frameworks were identified that need to be improved to make the method more operational.


Agricultural policy Consequential life cycle assessment Dairy quota Grass premium Livestock production Partial equilibrium model 





Attributional life cycle assessment


Common Agricultural Policy


Cumulative energy demand


Computable general equilibrium model


Consequential life cycle assessment


Consequential life cycle inventory


European Union excluding France




Freshwater ecotoxicity




Fat- and protein-corrected milk




Grass-based milk production


Greenhouse gas


Global warming potential




Highland milk production


Intensive grass-based milk production


Intensive maize silage-based milk production




Land competition


Life cycle assessment


Life cycle inventory


Land use change


Maize silage-based milk production


Million hectares




Million tons


Organic milk production


Partial equilibrium model


Rest of world




Very intensive maize silage-based milk production



The authors thank Enrico Benetto (LIST) for the careful reading and insightful comments, ADEME and INRA for their financial support and Peter Koch for his technical support.

Supplementary material

11367_2018_1463_MOESM1_ESM.docx (189 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 188 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ADEMEAngersFrance
  4. 4.SAE2INRARennesFrance

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