Knowledge for better food systems

"Nose-to-tail" meat consumption, carbon footprint and mass allocation vs economic allocation

intolife's picture

Hi folks.

I have a puzzle to solve.  

I help caterers to see the environmental impact of their menus, and up til now have been using mass allocation for carbon footprints - in other words, the cut of meat has been irrelevant, but the animal it came from is the defining factor.  However, the "nose-to-tail" food movement is providing me with an interesting challenge.  There are a number of good arguments for eating less trendy bits of the animal (which we don't need to go into here) and I am aware that mass allocation does not deal with this as well as it might.  90% of the time it is not relevant (90% of restaurants do not use less trendy cuts!), but I have one restaurant that uses pigs trotters and we feel they could promote them as a more sustainable choice than, for example, a tenderloin steak.  Whilst pork does arguable have a lower impact (and certainly carbon footprint) than beef, even on mass allocation, is it possible to use economic allocation here?

Anyone know of good research data?

I have found one paper (Sustainability 2012, 4 3280) - quote "based on an economic allocation, the carbon footprints of meat (primal cuts), hide, offal and fat, bones and other products for rendering were 19.6, 12.3, 7 and 2 kg CO2e per kg of product, respectively"... but this does not really help with "nose-to-tail" meat consumption, and it opens the question "where do you draw the line, and what happens if pigs trotters become really popular and start commanding a higher price / economic value"...

Any help and advice much appreciated!

Thanks :-)


Will Nicholson.

Hayo van der Werf's picture

Dear Will,

Of course you can use economic allocation. You may know that according to ISO guidelines, economic allocation is the “choice of last resort”, but in praxis, like in LCA databases and in many LCA publications in peer-reviewed journals, it is the option that is most used. Many people think that it is a good option because finally it is the product value that is the driver causing the production process. So more valuable bits of the animal should bear more of the impacts.

Obviously, you should update your allocation factors as relative economic values of the products change. In order to avoid short term changes affecting your results it's best to calculate average prices for several years.


Best regards,


Hayo van der Werf

intolife's picture
Submitted by intolife on

Thank you!  Yes, short-term economic allocation is very misleading.  I have restaurants who have seen significant price changes in certain products in the last year, which would alternately see some of the menu dishes be allocated lower or higher carbon footprints without them making a change to the menu! ( A bouillebaise with some lobster in it being a good (if slightly extravagent) example!)

Not sure how I would use this in a "pork knuckle" vs "pork loin" situation.  Quick example, if "pork" is allocated a CFP of 7kg CO2eq per kg, and I allocate "7" to common pork cuts, that have an average cost of £8 per kg, and pork knuckle is costing only £4 per kg, would it be appropriate to allocate 3.5kg CO2eq per kg for pork knuckle.  Or is this way to much guess-work and estimation?  

Or, ox cheek vs beef burger, using a price comparison, the ox cheek would be allocated a CFP of around 10 kg CO2eq per kg, but the beef in the burger would be a CFP of around 20.

Is this an appropriate position to take, or am I in effect just fabricting carbon footprints, and therefore devaluing the whole process?

Will Nicholson


Food Sustainability in the Restaurant Industry