Development of life cycle assessments for RoBUTCHER

7. april 2021

Life cycle assessment is a method for understanding sustainable social development and is increasingly used by companies and public actors. Also, in the meat industry, life cycle assessments are an integral part of the development of new, innovative solutions.

The purpose of a life cycle analysis is to assess all processes for a product or product system, from extraction of raw materials to disposal as waste. The method maps environmental and resource impact from “cradle to grave”, not only for the product itself, but also for all materials and energy sources used throughout the product’s life cycle from production to transport and maintenance.

In connection with a previous research project in which the goal was to develop a semiautomatic workstation, Meat Factory Cell, the Norwegian Institute for Sustainability Research (NORSUS) has carried out a life cycle analysis. In addition to the environmental assessments, the economic and societal aspects of introducing an automated slaughter system were also analyzed. NORSUS’s work is described in the article “Life cycle sustainability assessment of a novel slaughter concept” published in the Journal of Cleaner Production. The conclusion is that the automated slaughter concept is a viable alternative to the conventional slaughter process. This work is now being continued to the ongoing research project RoBUTCHER.

Clara Valente, PhD, MSc Environmental Analysis and Management, NORSUS

For NORSUS, the main goal will be to evaluate societal consequences by introducing an automatic slaughter system. Aspects such as working conditions, employment, HSE, equal opportunities and working hours should be evaluated to map the social opportunities and obstacles to RoBUTCHER deployment .

Clara Valente from NORSUS

Local slaughterhouses can be preserved

The analyses from the work with MFC showed major changes in environmental aspects, and the reason lies in the fact that the greatest environmental impact occurs outside the slaughterhouses, in the part of the value chain that includes feed production, fertilizer management and animal husbandry.

From the economic perspective, automated workstations are thought to be best suited for small and medium-sized slaughterhouses. This can help maintain slaughterhouses that are situated closer to the farmers and more local jobs can be preserved. Investment costs will be high, but they are expected to be reduced as the concept becomes more widespread.

Fewer but safer jobs

The societal life cycle analysis indicates that HSE, pay conditions and age and gender discrimination will be the most affected factors. A more efficient, robotic slaughter system can lead to demands for other qualifications and perhaps more diverse work skills. Although the number of jobs may be fewer, there is a greater chance of stable work. Work at today’s slaughter line involves heavy and repetitive movement, noise, and the risk of accidents. The operator at an automated workstation will have less physically demanding work and this can lead to an increase in the proportion of women at the workplace, and the operators to stay longer in the job.