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IEST5004
Environment Internship S1 2018
Student Name: Christopher Sewell
Student ID: z5052418
Email: chris@gaiapartnership.com
An investigation into the link between human diet and an
ecologically sustainable food supply chain.
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Introduction
It could be argued that both endemic negative human health outcomes and the start of large
scale environmental impacts can be traced back to the first agricultural revolution
(Neolithic Revolution), when human societies transformed from hunting and gathering to
farming at around 10, 000 BCE. (Chegg 2018).
The need for hunters and gathers to forage for food, by necessity meant a varied human
diet consisting of multiple food sources that included meat when the hunting was
successful (Harari 2017). Agricultural practices began to limit the dietary variations
leading the human anatomy evolving to cope with a less nutrient choice diet that is also
protein rich. As a consequence the current human diet is creating adverse environmental
and health impacts. The environmental degradation caused by having to sustain this
modern diet is at a tipping point. This report will look at the underlining evidence
surrounding the environmental impacts created by people’s dietary choices.
Historical background
In 1945, the economist George Stigler published a diet that was both low cost and met the
minimal nutritional dietary requirements of a war ravaged population. Most people where
on nutrient deprived rationing after the end of the Second World War. According to Stigler
(1945) the optimal diet consisted of wheat flour, evaporated milk, cabbage, spinach, &
dried navy beans (Gephart et al. 2016). Stigler proposed that a person could have sufficient
nutritional intake using this diet for US $39.93 per year (in 1939 prices). Stigler’s method
was reaffirmed in 1947 with a newly developed simplex algorithm where they tested
Stigler’s ‘diet problem’ and found that it was only US 24c under his original calculation
(Gephart et al. 2016).
I would argue that while these historical milestones i.e. setting a nutrient based diet and
using an algorithm to test the assumptions, were relevant when feeding the masses during
that post war period, today we face an equally large, if not bigger threat to humanity and
the world we live on. This is the negative environmental consequences of humans having
to maintain an adequate nutrient intake as the population dramatically increases to 9.8
billion (United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs 2017) by 2050 within
the confines of a finite planet.
The nature of the challenge
There is growing urgency for policy makers and influencers to focus their attention on the
unsustainability of the global food chain. Overfishing, desertification of arable land and a
growing population are just three of the many issues that mean we have exceeded the
carrying capacity of the planet we inhabit.
The food production industry is a rapidly growing multi billion-dollar economic
powerhouse. This growth will need to be maintained as populations continue to move
from rural self-sufficient lifestyles into major population centres, not only in search of a
‘better’ lifestyle, but in many cases they are begin driven by climate impacts & population
pressures that are making many areas of traditional land non-arable. Coupled with the size
of the food industry we also have the numerous diet and lifestyle advice bodies that offer
guidelines on human health or environmentally sustainable ‘current best practice’. As a
consequence we see many environmental guides and labels appearing on the products that
adorn the supermarket shelves. This does not make the pathway to sustainable living for
consumers at all clear. There is an abundance of scholarly research, covering both the
environmental impact of the supply side of food production, as well as the consumption or
demand side. Academic research abounds on the subject of how food choices directly
relate to human health outcomes.
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This paper sets out to understand the detrimental effect that the modern food supply chain
has on ecological health while at the same time looking for markers and research that
attempts to simplify and quantify the ‘perfect’ diet for both human and planetary survival.
Questions to be explored include; what work has been done to update Stigler’s diet to
include not only modern nutrient requirements but also how this blends with
environmentally sustainable measures; what environmental factors are being used, and
could be used, to measure and understand risk and how do they relate to nutritional intake;
and how is this information being translated from the world of academia to influence
consumption behaviour.
Method
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presents compelling evidence that
climate change is real and mitigation is needed today (Smith et al. 2014) although there are
a number of other important environmental impact factors that are affected by the global
food chain. I have explored a broad cross section of peer-reviewed studies that provides
environmental impact information about the food supply chain.
An indication of the depth and breadth of this subject can be seen in a study on reducing
environmental impacts of food production and consumption by Sala et al. (2017) where
they use the illustration in figure 1 to show some of the keywords that are applicable to this
subject.
Figure 1. Taken from Sala et al. (2017) shows keywords that cover the issue of food environmental impacts
One of the many challenges when reviewing the available studies on environmental
impacts caused by the global food chain is the development of appropriate footprint
indicators. Early studies focused on a single impact i.e. carbon, water, nitrogen or land
footprints. These headline impacts are then further segmented into more detailed studies
e.g. water consists of footprints showing the usage of freshwater resources to irrigate crops
through to acidification of waterways caused by nitrogen run off and greenhouse gas
(GHG) emissions.
Ecological studies have also attempted to combine these multiple impacts and have been
challenged by the complexity of weighting one impact against another therefore leaving
findings open to interpretation. This has resulted in varying approaches and methodologies.
An example of how combining multiple impacts can presented under the grouping
‘Footprint Family’ was reviewed in Galli et al. (2012).
An important factor that also needs consideration when aggregating multiple impact
factors is the potential risk of trade offs. Ridoutt et al. (2017) identifies problems that arise
from the unintended nutritional and environmental consequences of food substitution that
occur in practice often differ from those that are prescribed in the literature. This becomes
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an issue if the studies are subsequently used to shape policy in environmental protection or
setting sustainable dietary guidelines. Incentivising a decrease in one impact group may
have negative impacts in another and therefore leads to adverse overall outcomes.
Beef consumption is an example that is often cited where negative environmental
outcomes can be evidenced across each of the four main impact categories (carbon, water,
nitrogen and land degradation). Here we also see a complex calculation used to weigh the
optimal footprint for consideration but the obvious mitigation strategy is just to consume
less beef.
Further adding to the complexity in understanding various impacts can be found in an
evidenced based review by Ridoutt et al. (2017). They state that there us a disconnect
between the science that informs the agricultural industry on climate change, and how the
science that informs public health nutritional stakeholders on lowering GHG emissions
view dietary guidance. Within this context we must now look at the methods used to
understand the various environmental impacts and the rules or guidelines that help us gain
a better understanding of the cross over between the food chain and an adequate nutrient
diet.
Guiding principles of measuring impacts - The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
Regardless of the questions around the correct approach to presenting information on
environmental impacts, the LCA technique can be used to both measure the impact across
the production and consumption of individual food products as well as how these relate to
diet patterns (Hellweg et al. 2014).
LCA’s have international standards and as such are comprehensive and consider all
relevant environmental impacts when applied correctly. According to the International
Organization for Standardization (2017) this means LCA’s can therefore be used to focus
efforts to address the most critical environmental impacts while at the same time help
avoid polices and decisions that could cause ‘Problem Shifting’ between different life
cycles or from one geographic location to another. LCA’s are therefore currently the best
method to compare impacts on food production, consumption and the diet strategies that
attempt to address these impacts without shifting the environmental burden to another area.
Wiedmann & Minx (2007) help define LCA’s when applied to the term carbon footprint
(CF) as the GHG emissions caused by an activity or product during its lifecycle including
both the direct and indirect emissions. In the case of carbon emissions as they relate to the
food chain, direct emissions would be defined as being within the complete control of the
producer e.g. the practice of farming the land, and indirect emissions being from external
areas like the electricity or fuel supply for running farm equipment. This definition can
also be used for other environmental impacts.
We see this definition and further explanation of the way LCA’s can be applied used in a
study from China that compares CF in agriculture from Jianyi et al (2015) titled “Carbon
footprints of food production in China (1979-2009).” The work outlines three possible
approaches: bottom up based process analysis; top down based environmental input-output
analysis; and a hybrid, which combines both components. Jianyi et al. (2015) used this
third approach EIO (environmental input-output) – LCA (life cycle assessment) for their
study because the combination gives a wider coverage of the important elements of the
lifecycle. One of the key findings that relate to this report from the Jianyi et al. (2015)
study is, while using some sample data that is now nearly forty years old, the high level of
indirect carbon emissions from agriculture inputs are 28-35% of the total CF from food
production in China. We see the focus on CF where we will explore later in this report that
the environmental impacts arising from land degradation and water usage in Chinese
agriculture would far exceed these CF measures.
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The environmental impact we are addressing when using LCA’s in the food chain
As stated previously, even with the considerations listed earlier, LCA’s are currently the
best method for understanding and measuring impacts across the numerous environmental
areas of concern. The question we need to address now is what targets should all
participants be aiming to meet using this standardized LCA approach for food production
and consumption as it relates to diet.
The 17 United Nations sustainable development goals (SDG) do help us here by forming
the basis for both social and environmental targets. Ridoutt et al. (2017) compiled a list,
shown in table 1 below, which is the result of a major literature review across 169 separate
targets of the 17 SDG’s which found 93 relevant journal articles that reported on
environmental assessment and impacts of the human diet. Unfortunately Ridoutt et al.
(2017) also found a weak alignment of environmental areas of concern covered within the
literature with those outlined in the 17 SDG’s.
• Water scarcity • Depletion of fish stocks
• Natural resource depletion • Deforestation
• Urban air quality • Land degradation and desertification
• Ozone depletion • Biodiversity loss
• Human and Eco toxicity • Invasive species
• Climate change • Freshwater ecosystem quality
• Marine debris • Marine eutrophication
Table 1. Areas of Environmental Impact. Adapted from Ridoutt et al. (2017)
Importantly Nemecek et al. (2016) states that while GHG emissions are the most
commonly addressed impact areas they are often used as a proxy for the full range of
environmental impacts around the food chain. He states that in agricultural production
impacts such as emissions of nutrients contribute to eutrophication, emissions of pesticides
 heavy metals that are both toxic to humans and the ecosystem’s health and depletion of
water sources are all very important and are not directly related to GHG emissions.
Further evidence of the importance of looking beyond GHG emissions can be found in
Castellani et al. (2017). They conducted an assessment of 17 food products and while the
results were highly sensitive to model choices, an issue that needs consideration, less than
2% of overall impacts were attributed to GHG emissions. We should stop to consider this
seemingly small number and the importance of understanding it in the context of total
environmental impacts in the food chain. The current estimates for GHG emissions from
the food chain range from 19% to 29% of the total global anthropogenic GHG emissions
(Vermeulen et al. 2015). So even at the lower end of this range (19%), while nearly 1/5th
of
all GHG emissions can be attributed to the food chain another 98% of environmental
impacts are causing far more damage to the ecosystem, so we clearly cannot only focus on
GHG emissions.
Linking diet with environmental sustainability
Earlier we have stated that the SDG’s are an appropriate target if we use LCA’s as a
consistent measure. Unfortunately according to Richie et al. (2018), there is no
internationally agreed guidance that links nutrient sufficient and environmentally
sustainable mainstream diets. A good case in point can be evidenced from the World
Health Organization WHO (2015) healthy diet recommendations. If these guidelines were
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followed all countries, with the exception of India, they would fail to meet their Paris GHG
agreement targets. The 1.5o
C target would be exceed the average per capita carbon budget
alone without even including GHG emissions from energy or transport. The emissions do
fall within the 2o
C target but it would require a complete de-carbonization of all other
sectors by 2050 (Richie et al. 2018). It should be stated again that this information is
focused on reducing GHG emissions to combat climate change. And while climate change
is one of the key SDG’s (No 13) there is another 98% of environmental impacts occurring
that fall outside of this global challenge when looking at the food chain and diets.
One of the reasons the WHO guidelines are in place is to encourage a convergence of
global diet trends to help meet the important SDG No 2 goal of ending hunger. Social and
cultural norms are strong drivers of change or resistance to change. One of the strongest
influencers that steer consumption habits is income or income inequality. This can be
witnessed within global meat consumption trends, which can be equated to income
inequalities (Bakker 2012). When we look at nutrient guidelines Richie et al. (2018) argues
that there is no correlation between WHO guidelines and long-term climate change action
commitments. Nutrient guidelines are difficult to follow and are often driven by the stated
cultural and societal norms as well as the power of large vested interest industry groups
e.g. the Australian cattle industry. Which effectively means any conversation about
reducing meat consumption in Australia is politically challenging. On the other hand India
has a largely lactovegetarian diet that is closely linked to both cultural and religious values
(Bonne et al. 2007) meaning they have a diet that meets the WHO guidelines.
The metrics that link diet and environmental impacts
While the need for ‘environmental equivalence,’ according to Ridoutt et al. (2015), is
necessary so we can fully understand and compare different foods, we first need to
understand each of the main areas of environmental concern. This enables LCA’s and the
weighting of there importance to be systematically applied. We will follow Gephart et al.
(2016) whose approach focused on footprint indictors across 4 keys environmental impacts
being greenhouse gas emission (GHG), Nitrogen release (pollution causing
eutrophication), water usage and land usage.
It should be noted that ecosystem impacts have been included under ‘land use’ as we are
looking at methods to compare environmental impacts and nutrient diets. While academic
research on biodiversity loss does bring focus to this important impact, the use of LCA’s is
not easily adopted in this area of study therefore comparison against other impacts is more
difficult. As de Baan et al. (2013) explains, a good method of including a biodiversity
metric is to use ‘Biodiversity damage potential’, shown in table 4 below, as a method that
trys to quantify biodiversity loss against land usage therefore enabling comparison across
impacts and diets.
Carbon footprint
There are numerous studies that model GHG emissions of average country specific diets
and then compare these to alternate dietary recommendations. Lowering the intake of GHG
emission intense foods through diet variation naturally lowers the amount of GHG
emissions. According to Perignon et al. (2017) unfortunately the focus cannot be placed
solely on reducing GHG emissions in diet, as the diet must also be nutrient complete.
Many alternate diets that are lower in GHG emissions can result in a worse nutritional and
health outcome with higher sugar and low micronutrients intake (Payne et al. 2016).
Land use is an important and a globally variable factor when calculating GHG emissions in
both food production and diet LCA’s. While land use does crossover with other
environmental impacts e.g. ecosystem depletion, there is also the mitigation aspect of soil
carbon stocks that is affected by land use change (annual cropping to pastoral farming for
instance). Doran-Brown et al. (2016) argues that these may help mitigate some of the
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negative impacts of agricultural practices, unfortunately capturing and verifying these
measurements at a producer level is complex so difficult to apply in comparison scenarios.
An example of how carbon emissions are used to measure environmental impacts in the
farming aspect of the food chain can be evidenced in a paper from Xu et al. (2013). They
applied a carbon footprint LCA across 3 milk products following PAS2050: 2008 (BSI
2008) standard protocol to compare yogurt, fluid milk and skimmed milk, all produced at
one facility in Huainan City in central China. One reason for including their work in this
study is that the boundaries are clearly defined enabling the findings to have a high degree
of trust. See figure 2.
Figure 2. System boundaries for the life cycle of milk products. Xu et al. (2013)
A conclusion can be drawn that focus is needed on the actual farming component of the
food chain as approximately 70% of the carbon emissions are attributed to this activity in
this example (see table 2). We also need to remember that we have discussed that GHG
emissions only account for 2% of the environmental impacts of the farming or agricultural
sector of the food chain. Manufacturing or processing accounts for over 20%, with
packaging, and lastly transport having relatively small contributions. This weighting of
how carbon emissions are attributed across the boundaries in an LCA is reflective of other
studies in this area.
Table 2. GHG emissions across the life cycle shown as a proportion of the total carbon footprint for each of
the 3 products. Xu et al. (2013)
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Water Usage
Table 3 outlines the different types of water metrics and how they are used to understand
impacts in this important ‘Source of Life’ measure.
Metric Description
Blue water use The volume of surface and groundwater consumed in the
production of the different foods that make up the diet
Green water use The volume of soil moisture from natural rainfall consumed in
the production of the different foods that make up the diet
Virtual-water
footprint
The sum of blue  green water consumption associated with the
production of the different foods that make up the diet; can also
include gray water, which is a theoretical volume of water
required to dilute the load of pollutants emitted to freshwater to
the natural background concentration or a selected water quality
standard
Water-scarcity
footprint
Each instance of water consumption is multiplied by a local
Water Scarcity Index and subsequently summed across the life
cycle of the different foods that make up the diet; an
International Organization for Standardization (ISO14046: 2014)
therefore this is a compliant and comparable metric.
Table 3. Taken from ‘Characterization of metrics relating to water use applied in the research literature
concerning lower–environmental impact diets’ Ridoutt et al. (2017)
The term Blue water is used for the consumption of fresh water from surface-water
including lakes, rivers and ground water. When this term is used it does not allow for water
scarcity. A food product with low blue water usage in a high-water stress area would be of
greater environmental concern than a product with high blue water usage in a low-water
stress area (Ridoutt et.al. 2010). Therefore using the metric does not give us adequate
sustainable diet guidance.
Green water is used less often in the literature and refers to water in the soil from rainfall.
It is estimated that between 60-70% of global food production relies entirely on green
water with irrigation supplementing this (Rost et.al. 2008). As rainwater is a yield-limiting
factor, green water is also a proxy for land-use. Good management of land that relies on
green water is paramount mainly to slow evaporation. We also see in arid and semi arid
regions the availability of green water puts limits on the scale of agricultural output.
The third metric is virtual water, which is an aggregation of blue and green water. This has
the same limiting aspect as the individual metrics.
There is an ISO standard ISO 14046: 2014 which, when used, brings some consistency to
water usage. Only the metric water-scarcity footprint (WSF) can meet this standard. WSF
requires each water usage occurrence in food production to be multiplied by the relevant
water scarcity index for the area (Ridoutt et.al. 2017). This makes WSF a reliable measure
when understanding the contribution of water usage impact as it relates to diet.
Land use
The environmental impact of land use is one of the more complex areas to measure and
understand, as each agricultural area has to be assessed on its own merit. Table 4 describes
each of the six metrics used.
I pose the following question based on the learning’s from Arcoverde et al. (2107), if we
are looking at understanding and achieving a well balanced diet. Whilst a small-scale
pasture/range-land livestock system can help encourage or maintain positive biodiversity
outcomes compared with industrialised production systems, can it also meet SDG3 with an
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United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs (2017) estimate of 9.8 billion
population by 2050 requiring a nutrient balanced diet?
Metric Description
Total land use Total area of arable and non-arable land used in the production of the
different foods that make up the diet
Land use x the
use class
Land used in the production of the different foods that make up the diet,
separately reported for different land-use classes, such as land used for
cropping or land used for grazing
Land use
relative to a
defined limit
Total land area used in the production of the different foods that make up the
diet is compared with a land-availability constraint, such as national
agricultural land availability, and reported as a percentage of this limit
Ecological
footprint
A measure of land use required for the production of the different foods that
make up the diet, as well as land required for energy production, land for
sequestration of emitted greenhouse gases, and water surface area required to
support fisheries; the results are expressed in global hectares—globally
comparable, standardized
Soil organic
carbon deficit
Soil organic carbon content is considered a proxy for soil quality; the metric,
which is based on generic factors for soil carbon loss for different forms of
land occupation (Milà 2007), has been recommended as a default method for
use in life cycle assessment studies by the European Commission Joint
Research Centre (2011)
Biodiversity
damage
potential
Occupied land areas are classified according to type of use (e.g., annual
cropping, pasture) and biome; the biodiversity damage potential is based on
differences in species richness between agricultural and natural land
Table 4. Taken from ‘Characterization of metrics related to land use applied in the research literature
concerning lower–environmental impact diets’ Ridoutt et.al. (2017)
Soil organic carbon deficit (SOCD) and bio diversity (BDP) are the most reliable metrics
for land use, but again they take the most effort to obtain. They both address the specific
environmental area of concern rather than the quantity of land use. SOCD is a soil quality
indicator, which also helps us understand the mitigating properties of the land (European
Commission Joint Research Centre 2011). It is the recommended metric for use in any
European commission LCA.
Eutrophication
As stated earlier, attention in the food chain research papers, the general media and
subsequent policy frameworks tend to focus on carbon emissions i.e. climate change.
According to Nijdam  Wilting (2003) in a Dutch study of the average diet eutrophication
from the food chain makes the largest impact as well as accounting for 71% of total
anthropogenic eutrophication impacts. This compares with climate change being up to 30%
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of the impact.
A good example of the volume of environmental impact from eutrophication can be found
in Notarnicola et al (2017) who conducted a large comparison study on the environmental
impacts of food consumption. They used food products that represented the average food
and beverage consumption in Europe, by importance of the products in terms of mass and
it’s economic value. The products where milk, cheese, butter, bread, pork, beef, poultry,
sugar, sunflower oil, olive oil, potatoes, oranges, apples, mineral water, roasted coffee,
beer and pre-prepared meals. The conclusion mirrored many of the findings we have
covered earlier in the paper. These included that the agricultural lifecycle stage has the
highest impact of all the foods in the basket, due to the managing of both crops and
animals. Importantly they found that the end-of-life phase, human excretion and
wastewater treatments posed ‘environmental burdens related to eutrophication substances
whose environmental impacts are greater than those of the agriculture, transports and
processing phases’. These burdens can be seen in in table 5 where the three forms of
eutrophication being terrestrial, freshwater and marine as well as acidification and
freshwater eco-toxicity, show high percentages of contribution to the total impacts from
agriculture.
Table 5. The relative contribution of the six life cycle phases to the impact of the entire basket in each impact
category. Notarnicola et al (2017)
Human Health
According to Castellani et al. (2017), approximately 50% of all environmental impacts in
the food supply chain are directly responsible for a major health issue via human toxicity
arising from chemical emissions. These chemical emissions are listed in table 6. The
products inputs  outputs phases from agricultural that include these listed chemicals are
shown in table 7. These health issues arising from the various toxic chemicals are known
as non-communicable diseases (NCD’s) and include cancer, stroke, and heart disease.
Added to this, according to The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
FAO (2017), 40% of the global population is classified as over weight or obese. At the
other end of the scale is an example of the diet challenge we have to bridge with the divide
between the ‘have’s’ and the ‘have not’s’ showing 800 million people being
undernourished plus a further 2 billion suffering from micronutrient deficiencies.
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Azoxystrobin Diquat Mcpa sodium salt Tebuconazole
Captan Epoxiconazole Methomyl Trinexapac-ethyl
Carbaryl Ethephon Mineral oil
Carboxin Ethofumesate Pencycuron
Chloridazon Fluazinam Phenmedipham
Chlorpyrifos
Fosetyl-
aluminium
Propiconazole
Copper Glyphosate Prosulfocarb
Dimethoate Mancozeb Sulfur
Table 6. Adapted from Notarnicola et al. (2017) showing pesticides use in the agricultural phase
Inputs Outputs
Fertilisers Emissions to air
N N2O from N fertilisers (direct)
P2O5 N2O from N fertilisers (indirect)
K2O NH3 from fertilisers
Lime fertiliser CO2 from Fertilisers
Water Emissions to water
Diesel NO3 from Fertilisers
Electricity P from Fertilisers
Emissions to soil
Pesticides
Table 7. Adapted from Notarnicola et al. (2017) showing inventories within the agricultural phase
Buchner et al. (2010) conducted a comparison between the score preferences for a ‘healthy
diet.’ They concluded that the higher a food product is on the pyramid the lower the
recommended amount of consumption. The Barilla Center pyramid (figure 3) shows how
this can be used as a guide for personal diet choices as it strongly influences the subsequent
environmental impacts (van Dooren et al. 2014).
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Figure 3. The Barilla Food Pyramid from (van Dooren et al. 2014)
How diets impact the environment
There are many important research projects that measure, compare, recommend and
critique the various diets around the world including vegan, lactovegetarian, vegetarian,
Mediterranean, flexitarianism and palo. As we have discussed earlier, culture, religion,
ethics and economics as well as market forces including supply and demand influence the
choice of diet. There is a well-researched article that helps distil the challenges around diet
by one of my project advisors Dr Michalis Hadjikakou a Research fellow at the School of
Life and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, Engineering  Built
Environment, Deakin University. Hadjikakou (2018) has researched widely in eco-friendly
food consumption and has also supplied guidance on reading lists and the general approach
to this project. While focusing on an Australian context Hadjikakou’s (2018) findings, I
believe, are applicable for the global impacts that are being reviewed in this report.
Hadjikakou’s article does act as a summation of the general findings from all my reading
these include:
• Changing dietary habits are difficult. Small behavioural shifts are realistic as large-
scale charges could end up just moving one environmental problem to another.
• In an Australian context, Australia has one of the largest per capita environmental
footprints in the world. I would add that the general rule would be any ‘Western’ or
developed country with high beef and/or pork meat diet has a high footprint.
• One important reason that countries like Australia have large footprints is they eat
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an average of 95kg of red meat per annum. The OECD/FAO (2017) average is
69kg. Even this figure lower figure is not sustainable, as we have discussed earlier.
• As a general rule animal-derived food consume more energy and resources and are
responsible for the release of more emissions and have higher all round
environmental impacts than plant based foods.
• Food consumption is a major contributor to GHG emissions, water scarcity, land
clearing and biodiversity loss and ocean pollution.
• Countries like Australia have a higher intake of calories i.e. they exceed their
nutrient requirements (though what level this should be is not prescribed). Junk and
processed food choices and importantly overconsumption in ‘Western’ nations not
only mean we are wasting environmental resources and unnecessarily increasing
environmental impacts, we are creating endemic NCD health problems such as
obesity.
• While not covered in my report as I have focused on the problem of environmental
sustainable impacts with a nutrient sufficient diet, the issue of food waste needs
addressing from both an environmental viewpoint as well as a necessary
requirement if we are to adequately feed the 9.8 billion people in 2050. Hadjikakou
(2018) does state that 3.1 million tonnes of edible food is wasted a year in Australia
alone.
• Hadjikakou (2018) does give a list of incremental changes to diet that would help
shift the environmental impact. It is not within the scope of this report to set
guidelines, it is a knowledge gathering exercise so better understanding can help
contribute to further discussion on balancing environmental impacts with a
sustainable nutrient sufficient diet.
The second report that looks at how diet relates to environmental impact is from the World
Wildlife Fund (WWF) tilted ‘Livewell: a balance of healthy and sustainable food choices’
by Macdiarmid et al. (2011). It was released in an accessible format to encourage a more
general readership amongst stakeholders who influence policy setting as well as
behavioural guidelines for the general public. It is a useful guide and contribution to the
subject, using evidenced based research that is presented in an actionable format. This
earlier report reflects Hadjikakou (2018) observations in a number of areas namely:
• In this case in the UK people consume an average of 3500 calories a day, which is
1000 above the recommended guidelines issued at the time from FAOSTAT
(2009).
• This ‘Western’ diet tends to have a high environmental impact.
• In a ‘Western’ diet the tendency is to over eat which leads to an increase in NCD’s
such as obesity, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
• When this report was published in 2011, it was estimated that 70% of all
agricultural land was used to grow crops for livestock. Agriculture on this scale
requires massive amounts of water, and accounted for 8% of the global water
supply.
• The average person in the UK was eating 79kg of meat per year in 2011 (compared
with Australia 95kg today).
This report did focus, as many others I have read, heavy on GHG emissions from the food
chain. They did make the concession in the summary that GHG emissions are just one part
of the problem along with other environmental impacts (water, pollutants, biodiversity
loss), ethical and economic issues need to be considered when attempting to design a
sustainable nutrient sufficient diet.
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Suggested Future Research
The Livewell (Macdiarmid et al. 2011) report interestingly concluded with recommend
future research work. Seven years later and having reviewed a fair sample of papers on the
environmental impact with a nutrient sufficient diet subject, their recommendations are still
relevant and still require urgent action.
Further development of the dietary model
This first recommendation from Macdiarmid et al. (2011) directly related to their presented
modelling. There are many more up-to-date dietary/nutrient models but they have all
worked on different assumptions and boundaries. As we have shown the FAO (2017)
guidelines for global nutrient intact would exceed the Paris commitments therefore the first
priority is to urgently address the gap between the current environmental targets and the
nutrient guidelines.
More detailed data with full LCA’s including a wider range of sustainability issues
The sustainable, healthy diet developed in the Livewell report only included the GHG
emission reduction targets; future work is still needed to consider some of the other issues
related to environmental sustainability, such as water use, land use change, impact on
biodiversity, and ethical and economic concerns. With sufficient data it would be possible
to include some of these in an updated Livewell model as additional constraints that should
be optimized – for example, water use or the economic impact of production methods.
Putting these into a single model would start to show some of the trade-offs that will need
to be made to achieve a truly sustainable and healthy diet.
Consistency of methodology and sampling
One difficulty I encountered in my research was trying to compare one diet
recommendation with another. Consistency of methodology and sampling would also be
achieved with, as suggested by Ridoutt et.al. (2017), ‘a shared knowledge framework.’
This would also emphasize the importance of ‘nutritional adequacy’, the diversity of
dietary patterns already existing within the community, and the existing public health
nutrition challenges in achieving recommended in-takes of micronutrients. Ridoutt et al.
(2017) sums up the current problem very well where he states that ‘until such time as the
evidence base is more complete and robust, commentators on sustainable diets should not
be quick to assume that a dietary pattern with a low overall environmental impact can be
readily defined or recommended’.
Conclusion and observations
Having read widely during the course of this research there are a number of observations
that have formed in my mind. Firstly there is a gap in the current framing of
environmentally sustainable nutrient diet studies. This makes comparison between, what
are well-researched and presented individual papers, difficult to compare and therefore do
not necessarily contribute to a larger body of work. This is highlighted by Ridoutt et al.
(2017) and I am in full agreement that this should be a priority so the time and resources
being applied to this very important area of research achieves a workable consensus in a
timely manner.
Secondly the fact that we do have a workable and standardised manner of capturing
environmental impact and nutrient diet information does allow LCA’s to be used to
calculate outcomes and set the correct policy guidelines. This is on the proviso that the
frameworks for research are in place as mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Finally there is the issue of looking beyond GHG emissions when measuring the negative
15
effects of feeding the world’s population. While I understood before researching this topic
that there were other environmental considerations that would be uncovered, I did not
realise the size of the problem. Climate change is clearly a major issue and we do have a
level of global agreement on tackling this issue. Looking at the push back on climate
change that occurs globally I ask myself is the effort to educate and then fight for
environmentally better outcomes with other impacts in the food chain a viable option. The
problem is if it is to hard at the moment when will it be easier, and more importantly, when
will it be too late to start making changes.
Headings for blogs for host organisation
This research was commissioned for use by the host organisation Evocco to increase their
understanding of the relationship between healthy food choices and sustainability. It is also
to be used to communicate this knowledge to users and customers via a well-designed
food-rating app that will calculate beneficial food choices. To assist with this
communication a number of blogs will be written based on the various findings from this
study. These blog titles are listed below:
1. Helping to define the perfect diet to save the plant
2. The history of nutrient sufficient diets
3. The challenge of feeding 9.8 billion people in 2050
4. Why is the focus on reducing GHG emissions in the food chain?
5. The complex nature of defining what to eat across varying cultural and social
norms
6. How to measure the sustainability of food
7. Environmental considerations at lunch time
8. Linking your diet to environmental sustainability
9. Eating less meat to save the planet and save yourself
10. Why agricultural land use practices are responsible for ecosystem degradation
16
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Sewell z5052418 final research report linking health and sustainable food production

  • 1. IEST5004 Environment Internship S1 2018 Student Name: Christopher Sewell Student ID: z5052418 Email: chris@gaiapartnership.com An investigation into the link between human diet and an ecologically sustainable food supply chain.
  • 2. 2 Introduction It could be argued that both endemic negative human health outcomes and the start of large scale environmental impacts can be traced back to the first agricultural revolution (Neolithic Revolution), when human societies transformed from hunting and gathering to farming at around 10, 000 BCE. (Chegg 2018). The need for hunters and gathers to forage for food, by necessity meant a varied human diet consisting of multiple food sources that included meat when the hunting was successful (Harari 2017). Agricultural practices began to limit the dietary variations leading the human anatomy evolving to cope with a less nutrient choice diet that is also protein rich. As a consequence the current human diet is creating adverse environmental and health impacts. The environmental degradation caused by having to sustain this modern diet is at a tipping point. This report will look at the underlining evidence surrounding the environmental impacts created by people’s dietary choices. Historical background In 1945, the economist George Stigler published a diet that was both low cost and met the minimal nutritional dietary requirements of a war ravaged population. Most people where on nutrient deprived rationing after the end of the Second World War. According to Stigler (1945) the optimal diet consisted of wheat flour, evaporated milk, cabbage, spinach, & dried navy beans (Gephart et al. 2016). Stigler proposed that a person could have sufficient nutritional intake using this diet for US $39.93 per year (in 1939 prices). Stigler’s method was reaffirmed in 1947 with a newly developed simplex algorithm where they tested Stigler’s ‘diet problem’ and found that it was only US 24c under his original calculation (Gephart et al. 2016). I would argue that while these historical milestones i.e. setting a nutrient based diet and using an algorithm to test the assumptions, were relevant when feeding the masses during that post war period, today we face an equally large, if not bigger threat to humanity and the world we live on. This is the negative environmental consequences of humans having to maintain an adequate nutrient intake as the population dramatically increases to 9.8 billion (United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs 2017) by 2050 within the confines of a finite planet. The nature of the challenge There is growing urgency for policy makers and influencers to focus their attention on the unsustainability of the global food chain. Overfishing, desertification of arable land and a growing population are just three of the many issues that mean we have exceeded the carrying capacity of the planet we inhabit. The food production industry is a rapidly growing multi billion-dollar economic powerhouse. This growth will need to be maintained as populations continue to move from rural self-sufficient lifestyles into major population centres, not only in search of a ‘better’ lifestyle, but in many cases they are begin driven by climate impacts & population pressures that are making many areas of traditional land non-arable. Coupled with the size of the food industry we also have the numerous diet and lifestyle advice bodies that offer guidelines on human health or environmentally sustainable ‘current best practice’. As a consequence we see many environmental guides and labels appearing on the products that adorn the supermarket shelves. This does not make the pathway to sustainable living for consumers at all clear. There is an abundance of scholarly research, covering both the environmental impact of the supply side of food production, as well as the consumption or demand side. Academic research abounds on the subject of how food choices directly relate to human health outcomes.
  • 3. 3 This paper sets out to understand the detrimental effect that the modern food supply chain has on ecological health while at the same time looking for markers and research that attempts to simplify and quantify the ‘perfect’ diet for both human and planetary survival. Questions to be explored include; what work has been done to update Stigler’s diet to include not only modern nutrient requirements but also how this blends with environmentally sustainable measures; what environmental factors are being used, and could be used, to measure and understand risk and how do they relate to nutritional intake; and how is this information being translated from the world of academia to influence consumption behaviour. Method The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presents compelling evidence that climate change is real and mitigation is needed today (Smith et al. 2014) although there are a number of other important environmental impact factors that are affected by the global food chain. I have explored a broad cross section of peer-reviewed studies that provides environmental impact information about the food supply chain. An indication of the depth and breadth of this subject can be seen in a study on reducing environmental impacts of food production and consumption by Sala et al. (2017) where they use the illustration in figure 1 to show some of the keywords that are applicable to this subject. Figure 1. Taken from Sala et al. (2017) shows keywords that cover the issue of food environmental impacts One of the many challenges when reviewing the available studies on environmental impacts caused by the global food chain is the development of appropriate footprint indicators. Early studies focused on a single impact i.e. carbon, water, nitrogen or land footprints. These headline impacts are then further segmented into more detailed studies e.g. water consists of footprints showing the usage of freshwater resources to irrigate crops through to acidification of waterways caused by nitrogen run off and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Ecological studies have also attempted to combine these multiple impacts and have been challenged by the complexity of weighting one impact against another therefore leaving findings open to interpretation. This has resulted in varying approaches and methodologies. An example of how combining multiple impacts can presented under the grouping ‘Footprint Family’ was reviewed in Galli et al. (2012). An important factor that also needs consideration when aggregating multiple impact factors is the potential risk of trade offs. Ridoutt et al. (2017) identifies problems that arise from the unintended nutritional and environmental consequences of food substitution that occur in practice often differ from those that are prescribed in the literature. This becomes
  • 4. 4 an issue if the studies are subsequently used to shape policy in environmental protection or setting sustainable dietary guidelines. Incentivising a decrease in one impact group may have negative impacts in another and therefore leads to adverse overall outcomes. Beef consumption is an example that is often cited where negative environmental outcomes can be evidenced across each of the four main impact categories (carbon, water, nitrogen and land degradation). Here we also see a complex calculation used to weigh the optimal footprint for consideration but the obvious mitigation strategy is just to consume less beef. Further adding to the complexity in understanding various impacts can be found in an evidenced based review by Ridoutt et al. (2017). They state that there us a disconnect between the science that informs the agricultural industry on climate change, and how the science that informs public health nutritional stakeholders on lowering GHG emissions view dietary guidance. Within this context we must now look at the methods used to understand the various environmental impacts and the rules or guidelines that help us gain a better understanding of the cross over between the food chain and an adequate nutrient diet. Guiding principles of measuring impacts - The Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) Regardless of the questions around the correct approach to presenting information on environmental impacts, the LCA technique can be used to both measure the impact across the production and consumption of individual food products as well as how these relate to diet patterns (Hellweg et al. 2014). LCA’s have international standards and as such are comprehensive and consider all relevant environmental impacts when applied correctly. According to the International Organization for Standardization (2017) this means LCA’s can therefore be used to focus efforts to address the most critical environmental impacts while at the same time help avoid polices and decisions that could cause ‘Problem Shifting’ between different life cycles or from one geographic location to another. LCA’s are therefore currently the best method to compare impacts on food production, consumption and the diet strategies that attempt to address these impacts without shifting the environmental burden to another area. Wiedmann & Minx (2007) help define LCA’s when applied to the term carbon footprint (CF) as the GHG emissions caused by an activity or product during its lifecycle including both the direct and indirect emissions. In the case of carbon emissions as they relate to the food chain, direct emissions would be defined as being within the complete control of the producer e.g. the practice of farming the land, and indirect emissions being from external areas like the electricity or fuel supply for running farm equipment. This definition can also be used for other environmental impacts. We see this definition and further explanation of the way LCA’s can be applied used in a study from China that compares CF in agriculture from Jianyi et al (2015) titled “Carbon footprints of food production in China (1979-2009).” The work outlines three possible approaches: bottom up based process analysis; top down based environmental input-output analysis; and a hybrid, which combines both components. Jianyi et al. (2015) used this third approach EIO (environmental input-output) – LCA (life cycle assessment) for their study because the combination gives a wider coverage of the important elements of the lifecycle. One of the key findings that relate to this report from the Jianyi et al. (2015) study is, while using some sample data that is now nearly forty years old, the high level of indirect carbon emissions from agriculture inputs are 28-35% of the total CF from food production in China. We see the focus on CF where we will explore later in this report that the environmental impacts arising from land degradation and water usage in Chinese agriculture would far exceed these CF measures.
  • 5. 5 The environmental impact we are addressing when using LCA’s in the food chain As stated previously, even with the considerations listed earlier, LCA’s are currently the best method for understanding and measuring impacts across the numerous environmental areas of concern. The question we need to address now is what targets should all participants be aiming to meet using this standardized LCA approach for food production and consumption as it relates to diet. The 17 United Nations sustainable development goals (SDG) do help us here by forming the basis for both social and environmental targets. Ridoutt et al. (2017) compiled a list, shown in table 1 below, which is the result of a major literature review across 169 separate targets of the 17 SDG’s which found 93 relevant journal articles that reported on environmental assessment and impacts of the human diet. Unfortunately Ridoutt et al. (2017) also found a weak alignment of environmental areas of concern covered within the literature with those outlined in the 17 SDG’s. • Water scarcity • Depletion of fish stocks • Natural resource depletion • Deforestation • Urban air quality • Land degradation and desertification • Ozone depletion • Biodiversity loss • Human and Eco toxicity • Invasive species • Climate change • Freshwater ecosystem quality • Marine debris • Marine eutrophication Table 1. Areas of Environmental Impact. Adapted from Ridoutt et al. (2017) Importantly Nemecek et al. (2016) states that while GHG emissions are the most commonly addressed impact areas they are often used as a proxy for the full range of environmental impacts around the food chain. He states that in agricultural production impacts such as emissions of nutrients contribute to eutrophication, emissions of pesticides heavy metals that are both toxic to humans and the ecosystem’s health and depletion of water sources are all very important and are not directly related to GHG emissions. Further evidence of the importance of looking beyond GHG emissions can be found in Castellani et al. (2017). They conducted an assessment of 17 food products and while the results were highly sensitive to model choices, an issue that needs consideration, less than 2% of overall impacts were attributed to GHG emissions. We should stop to consider this seemingly small number and the importance of understanding it in the context of total environmental impacts in the food chain. The current estimates for GHG emissions from the food chain range from 19% to 29% of the total global anthropogenic GHG emissions (Vermeulen et al. 2015). So even at the lower end of this range (19%), while nearly 1/5th of all GHG emissions can be attributed to the food chain another 98% of environmental impacts are causing far more damage to the ecosystem, so we clearly cannot only focus on GHG emissions. Linking diet with environmental sustainability Earlier we have stated that the SDG’s are an appropriate target if we use LCA’s as a consistent measure. Unfortunately according to Richie et al. (2018), there is no internationally agreed guidance that links nutrient sufficient and environmentally sustainable mainstream diets. A good case in point can be evidenced from the World Health Organization WHO (2015) healthy diet recommendations. If these guidelines were
  • 6. 6 followed all countries, with the exception of India, they would fail to meet their Paris GHG agreement targets. The 1.5o C target would be exceed the average per capita carbon budget alone without even including GHG emissions from energy or transport. The emissions do fall within the 2o C target but it would require a complete de-carbonization of all other sectors by 2050 (Richie et al. 2018). It should be stated again that this information is focused on reducing GHG emissions to combat climate change. And while climate change is one of the key SDG’s (No 13) there is another 98% of environmental impacts occurring that fall outside of this global challenge when looking at the food chain and diets. One of the reasons the WHO guidelines are in place is to encourage a convergence of global diet trends to help meet the important SDG No 2 goal of ending hunger. Social and cultural norms are strong drivers of change or resistance to change. One of the strongest influencers that steer consumption habits is income or income inequality. This can be witnessed within global meat consumption trends, which can be equated to income inequalities (Bakker 2012). When we look at nutrient guidelines Richie et al. (2018) argues that there is no correlation between WHO guidelines and long-term climate change action commitments. Nutrient guidelines are difficult to follow and are often driven by the stated cultural and societal norms as well as the power of large vested interest industry groups e.g. the Australian cattle industry. Which effectively means any conversation about reducing meat consumption in Australia is politically challenging. On the other hand India has a largely lactovegetarian diet that is closely linked to both cultural and religious values (Bonne et al. 2007) meaning they have a diet that meets the WHO guidelines. The metrics that link diet and environmental impacts While the need for ‘environmental equivalence,’ according to Ridoutt et al. (2015), is necessary so we can fully understand and compare different foods, we first need to understand each of the main areas of environmental concern. This enables LCA’s and the weighting of there importance to be systematically applied. We will follow Gephart et al. (2016) whose approach focused on footprint indictors across 4 keys environmental impacts being greenhouse gas emission (GHG), Nitrogen release (pollution causing eutrophication), water usage and land usage. It should be noted that ecosystem impacts have been included under ‘land use’ as we are looking at methods to compare environmental impacts and nutrient diets. While academic research on biodiversity loss does bring focus to this important impact, the use of LCA’s is not easily adopted in this area of study therefore comparison against other impacts is more difficult. As de Baan et al. (2013) explains, a good method of including a biodiversity metric is to use ‘Biodiversity damage potential’, shown in table 4 below, as a method that trys to quantify biodiversity loss against land usage therefore enabling comparison across impacts and diets. Carbon footprint There are numerous studies that model GHG emissions of average country specific diets and then compare these to alternate dietary recommendations. Lowering the intake of GHG emission intense foods through diet variation naturally lowers the amount of GHG emissions. According to Perignon et al. (2017) unfortunately the focus cannot be placed solely on reducing GHG emissions in diet, as the diet must also be nutrient complete. Many alternate diets that are lower in GHG emissions can result in a worse nutritional and health outcome with higher sugar and low micronutrients intake (Payne et al. 2016). Land use is an important and a globally variable factor when calculating GHG emissions in both food production and diet LCA’s. While land use does crossover with other environmental impacts e.g. ecosystem depletion, there is also the mitigation aspect of soil carbon stocks that is affected by land use change (annual cropping to pastoral farming for instance). Doran-Brown et al. (2016) argues that these may help mitigate some of the
  • 7. 7 negative impacts of agricultural practices, unfortunately capturing and verifying these measurements at a producer level is complex so difficult to apply in comparison scenarios. An example of how carbon emissions are used to measure environmental impacts in the farming aspect of the food chain can be evidenced in a paper from Xu et al. (2013). They applied a carbon footprint LCA across 3 milk products following PAS2050: 2008 (BSI 2008) standard protocol to compare yogurt, fluid milk and skimmed milk, all produced at one facility in Huainan City in central China. One reason for including their work in this study is that the boundaries are clearly defined enabling the findings to have a high degree of trust. See figure 2. Figure 2. System boundaries for the life cycle of milk products. Xu et al. (2013) A conclusion can be drawn that focus is needed on the actual farming component of the food chain as approximately 70% of the carbon emissions are attributed to this activity in this example (see table 2). We also need to remember that we have discussed that GHG emissions only account for 2% of the environmental impacts of the farming or agricultural sector of the food chain. Manufacturing or processing accounts for over 20%, with packaging, and lastly transport having relatively small contributions. This weighting of how carbon emissions are attributed across the boundaries in an LCA is reflective of other studies in this area. Table 2. GHG emissions across the life cycle shown as a proportion of the total carbon footprint for each of the 3 products. Xu et al. (2013)
  • 8. 8 Water Usage Table 3 outlines the different types of water metrics and how they are used to understand impacts in this important ‘Source of Life’ measure. Metric Description Blue water use The volume of surface and groundwater consumed in the production of the different foods that make up the diet Green water use The volume of soil moisture from natural rainfall consumed in the production of the different foods that make up the diet Virtual-water footprint The sum of blue green water consumption associated with the production of the different foods that make up the diet; can also include gray water, which is a theoretical volume of water required to dilute the load of pollutants emitted to freshwater to the natural background concentration or a selected water quality standard Water-scarcity footprint Each instance of water consumption is multiplied by a local Water Scarcity Index and subsequently summed across the life cycle of the different foods that make up the diet; an International Organization for Standardization (ISO14046: 2014) therefore this is a compliant and comparable metric. Table 3. Taken from ‘Characterization of metrics relating to water use applied in the research literature concerning lower–environmental impact diets’ Ridoutt et al. (2017) The term Blue water is used for the consumption of fresh water from surface-water including lakes, rivers and ground water. When this term is used it does not allow for water scarcity. A food product with low blue water usage in a high-water stress area would be of greater environmental concern than a product with high blue water usage in a low-water stress area (Ridoutt et.al. 2010). Therefore using the metric does not give us adequate sustainable diet guidance. Green water is used less often in the literature and refers to water in the soil from rainfall. It is estimated that between 60-70% of global food production relies entirely on green water with irrigation supplementing this (Rost et.al. 2008). As rainwater is a yield-limiting factor, green water is also a proxy for land-use. Good management of land that relies on green water is paramount mainly to slow evaporation. We also see in arid and semi arid regions the availability of green water puts limits on the scale of agricultural output. The third metric is virtual water, which is an aggregation of blue and green water. This has the same limiting aspect as the individual metrics. There is an ISO standard ISO 14046: 2014 which, when used, brings some consistency to water usage. Only the metric water-scarcity footprint (WSF) can meet this standard. WSF requires each water usage occurrence in food production to be multiplied by the relevant water scarcity index for the area (Ridoutt et.al. 2017). This makes WSF a reliable measure when understanding the contribution of water usage impact as it relates to diet. Land use The environmental impact of land use is one of the more complex areas to measure and understand, as each agricultural area has to be assessed on its own merit. Table 4 describes each of the six metrics used. I pose the following question based on the learning’s from Arcoverde et al. (2107), if we are looking at understanding and achieving a well balanced diet. Whilst a small-scale pasture/range-land livestock system can help encourage or maintain positive biodiversity outcomes compared with industrialised production systems, can it also meet SDG3 with an
  • 9. 9 United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs (2017) estimate of 9.8 billion population by 2050 requiring a nutrient balanced diet? Metric Description Total land use Total area of arable and non-arable land used in the production of the different foods that make up the diet Land use x the use class Land used in the production of the different foods that make up the diet, separately reported for different land-use classes, such as land used for cropping or land used for grazing Land use relative to a defined limit Total land area used in the production of the different foods that make up the diet is compared with a land-availability constraint, such as national agricultural land availability, and reported as a percentage of this limit Ecological footprint A measure of land use required for the production of the different foods that make up the diet, as well as land required for energy production, land for sequestration of emitted greenhouse gases, and water surface area required to support fisheries; the results are expressed in global hectares—globally comparable, standardized Soil organic carbon deficit Soil organic carbon content is considered a proxy for soil quality; the metric, which is based on generic factors for soil carbon loss for different forms of land occupation (Milà 2007), has been recommended as a default method for use in life cycle assessment studies by the European Commission Joint Research Centre (2011) Biodiversity damage potential Occupied land areas are classified according to type of use (e.g., annual cropping, pasture) and biome; the biodiversity damage potential is based on differences in species richness between agricultural and natural land Table 4. Taken from ‘Characterization of metrics related to land use applied in the research literature concerning lower–environmental impact diets’ Ridoutt et.al. (2017) Soil organic carbon deficit (SOCD) and bio diversity (BDP) are the most reliable metrics for land use, but again they take the most effort to obtain. They both address the specific environmental area of concern rather than the quantity of land use. SOCD is a soil quality indicator, which also helps us understand the mitigating properties of the land (European Commission Joint Research Centre 2011). It is the recommended metric for use in any European commission LCA. Eutrophication As stated earlier, attention in the food chain research papers, the general media and subsequent policy frameworks tend to focus on carbon emissions i.e. climate change. According to Nijdam Wilting (2003) in a Dutch study of the average diet eutrophication from the food chain makes the largest impact as well as accounting for 71% of total anthropogenic eutrophication impacts. This compares with climate change being up to 30%
  • 10. 10 of the impact. A good example of the volume of environmental impact from eutrophication can be found in Notarnicola et al (2017) who conducted a large comparison study on the environmental impacts of food consumption. They used food products that represented the average food and beverage consumption in Europe, by importance of the products in terms of mass and it’s economic value. The products where milk, cheese, butter, bread, pork, beef, poultry, sugar, sunflower oil, olive oil, potatoes, oranges, apples, mineral water, roasted coffee, beer and pre-prepared meals. The conclusion mirrored many of the findings we have covered earlier in the paper. These included that the agricultural lifecycle stage has the highest impact of all the foods in the basket, due to the managing of both crops and animals. Importantly they found that the end-of-life phase, human excretion and wastewater treatments posed ‘environmental burdens related to eutrophication substances whose environmental impacts are greater than those of the agriculture, transports and processing phases’. These burdens can be seen in in table 5 where the three forms of eutrophication being terrestrial, freshwater and marine as well as acidification and freshwater eco-toxicity, show high percentages of contribution to the total impacts from agriculture. Table 5. The relative contribution of the six life cycle phases to the impact of the entire basket in each impact category. Notarnicola et al (2017) Human Health According to Castellani et al. (2017), approximately 50% of all environmental impacts in the food supply chain are directly responsible for a major health issue via human toxicity arising from chemical emissions. These chemical emissions are listed in table 6. The products inputs outputs phases from agricultural that include these listed chemicals are shown in table 7. These health issues arising from the various toxic chemicals are known as non-communicable diseases (NCD’s) and include cancer, stroke, and heart disease. Added to this, according to The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations FAO (2017), 40% of the global population is classified as over weight or obese. At the other end of the scale is an example of the diet challenge we have to bridge with the divide between the ‘have’s’ and the ‘have not’s’ showing 800 million people being undernourished plus a further 2 billion suffering from micronutrient deficiencies.
  • 11. 11 Azoxystrobin Diquat Mcpa sodium salt Tebuconazole Captan Epoxiconazole Methomyl Trinexapac-ethyl Carbaryl Ethephon Mineral oil Carboxin Ethofumesate Pencycuron Chloridazon Fluazinam Phenmedipham Chlorpyrifos Fosetyl- aluminium Propiconazole Copper Glyphosate Prosulfocarb Dimethoate Mancozeb Sulfur Table 6. Adapted from Notarnicola et al. (2017) showing pesticides use in the agricultural phase Inputs Outputs Fertilisers Emissions to air N N2O from N fertilisers (direct) P2O5 N2O from N fertilisers (indirect) K2O NH3 from fertilisers Lime fertiliser CO2 from Fertilisers Water Emissions to water Diesel NO3 from Fertilisers Electricity P from Fertilisers Emissions to soil Pesticides Table 7. Adapted from Notarnicola et al. (2017) showing inventories within the agricultural phase Buchner et al. (2010) conducted a comparison between the score preferences for a ‘healthy diet.’ They concluded that the higher a food product is on the pyramid the lower the recommended amount of consumption. The Barilla Center pyramid (figure 3) shows how this can be used as a guide for personal diet choices as it strongly influences the subsequent environmental impacts (van Dooren et al. 2014).
  • 12. 12 Figure 3. The Barilla Food Pyramid from (van Dooren et al. 2014) How diets impact the environment There are many important research projects that measure, compare, recommend and critique the various diets around the world including vegan, lactovegetarian, vegetarian, Mediterranean, flexitarianism and palo. As we have discussed earlier, culture, religion, ethics and economics as well as market forces including supply and demand influence the choice of diet. There is a well-researched article that helps distil the challenges around diet by one of my project advisors Dr Michalis Hadjikakou a Research fellow at the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, Engineering Built Environment, Deakin University. Hadjikakou (2018) has researched widely in eco-friendly food consumption and has also supplied guidance on reading lists and the general approach to this project. While focusing on an Australian context Hadjikakou’s (2018) findings, I believe, are applicable for the global impacts that are being reviewed in this report. Hadjikakou’s article does act as a summation of the general findings from all my reading these include: • Changing dietary habits are difficult. Small behavioural shifts are realistic as large- scale charges could end up just moving one environmental problem to another. • In an Australian context, Australia has one of the largest per capita environmental footprints in the world. I would add that the general rule would be any ‘Western’ or developed country with high beef and/or pork meat diet has a high footprint. • One important reason that countries like Australia have large footprints is they eat
  • 13. 13 an average of 95kg of red meat per annum. The OECD/FAO (2017) average is 69kg. Even this figure lower figure is not sustainable, as we have discussed earlier. • As a general rule animal-derived food consume more energy and resources and are responsible for the release of more emissions and have higher all round environmental impacts than plant based foods. • Food consumption is a major contributor to GHG emissions, water scarcity, land clearing and biodiversity loss and ocean pollution. • Countries like Australia have a higher intake of calories i.e. they exceed their nutrient requirements (though what level this should be is not prescribed). Junk and processed food choices and importantly overconsumption in ‘Western’ nations not only mean we are wasting environmental resources and unnecessarily increasing environmental impacts, we are creating endemic NCD health problems such as obesity. • While not covered in my report as I have focused on the problem of environmental sustainable impacts with a nutrient sufficient diet, the issue of food waste needs addressing from both an environmental viewpoint as well as a necessary requirement if we are to adequately feed the 9.8 billion people in 2050. Hadjikakou (2018) does state that 3.1 million tonnes of edible food is wasted a year in Australia alone. • Hadjikakou (2018) does give a list of incremental changes to diet that would help shift the environmental impact. It is not within the scope of this report to set guidelines, it is a knowledge gathering exercise so better understanding can help contribute to further discussion on balancing environmental impacts with a sustainable nutrient sufficient diet. The second report that looks at how diet relates to environmental impact is from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) tilted ‘Livewell: a balance of healthy and sustainable food choices’ by Macdiarmid et al. (2011). It was released in an accessible format to encourage a more general readership amongst stakeholders who influence policy setting as well as behavioural guidelines for the general public. It is a useful guide and contribution to the subject, using evidenced based research that is presented in an actionable format. This earlier report reflects Hadjikakou (2018) observations in a number of areas namely: • In this case in the UK people consume an average of 3500 calories a day, which is 1000 above the recommended guidelines issued at the time from FAOSTAT (2009). • This ‘Western’ diet tends to have a high environmental impact. • In a ‘Western’ diet the tendency is to over eat which leads to an increase in NCD’s such as obesity, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. • When this report was published in 2011, it was estimated that 70% of all agricultural land was used to grow crops for livestock. Agriculture on this scale requires massive amounts of water, and accounted for 8% of the global water supply. • The average person in the UK was eating 79kg of meat per year in 2011 (compared with Australia 95kg today). This report did focus, as many others I have read, heavy on GHG emissions from the food chain. They did make the concession in the summary that GHG emissions are just one part of the problem along with other environmental impacts (water, pollutants, biodiversity loss), ethical and economic issues need to be considered when attempting to design a sustainable nutrient sufficient diet.
  • 14. 14 Suggested Future Research The Livewell (Macdiarmid et al. 2011) report interestingly concluded with recommend future research work. Seven years later and having reviewed a fair sample of papers on the environmental impact with a nutrient sufficient diet subject, their recommendations are still relevant and still require urgent action. Further development of the dietary model This first recommendation from Macdiarmid et al. (2011) directly related to their presented modelling. There are many more up-to-date dietary/nutrient models but they have all worked on different assumptions and boundaries. As we have shown the FAO (2017) guidelines for global nutrient intact would exceed the Paris commitments therefore the first priority is to urgently address the gap between the current environmental targets and the nutrient guidelines. More detailed data with full LCA’s including a wider range of sustainability issues The sustainable, healthy diet developed in the Livewell report only included the GHG emission reduction targets; future work is still needed to consider some of the other issues related to environmental sustainability, such as water use, land use change, impact on biodiversity, and ethical and economic concerns. With sufficient data it would be possible to include some of these in an updated Livewell model as additional constraints that should be optimized – for example, water use or the economic impact of production methods. Putting these into a single model would start to show some of the trade-offs that will need to be made to achieve a truly sustainable and healthy diet. Consistency of methodology and sampling One difficulty I encountered in my research was trying to compare one diet recommendation with another. Consistency of methodology and sampling would also be achieved with, as suggested by Ridoutt et.al. (2017), ‘a shared knowledge framework.’ This would also emphasize the importance of ‘nutritional adequacy’, the diversity of dietary patterns already existing within the community, and the existing public health nutrition challenges in achieving recommended in-takes of micronutrients. Ridoutt et al. (2017) sums up the current problem very well where he states that ‘until such time as the evidence base is more complete and robust, commentators on sustainable diets should not be quick to assume that a dietary pattern with a low overall environmental impact can be readily defined or recommended’. Conclusion and observations Having read widely during the course of this research there are a number of observations that have formed in my mind. Firstly there is a gap in the current framing of environmentally sustainable nutrient diet studies. This makes comparison between, what are well-researched and presented individual papers, difficult to compare and therefore do not necessarily contribute to a larger body of work. This is highlighted by Ridoutt et al. (2017) and I am in full agreement that this should be a priority so the time and resources being applied to this very important area of research achieves a workable consensus in a timely manner. Secondly the fact that we do have a workable and standardised manner of capturing environmental impact and nutrient diet information does allow LCA’s to be used to calculate outcomes and set the correct policy guidelines. This is on the proviso that the frameworks for research are in place as mentioned in the previous paragraph. Finally there is the issue of looking beyond GHG emissions when measuring the negative
  • 15. 15 effects of feeding the world’s population. While I understood before researching this topic that there were other environmental considerations that would be uncovered, I did not realise the size of the problem. Climate change is clearly a major issue and we do have a level of global agreement on tackling this issue. Looking at the push back on climate change that occurs globally I ask myself is the effort to educate and then fight for environmentally better outcomes with other impacts in the food chain a viable option. The problem is if it is to hard at the moment when will it be easier, and more importantly, when will it be too late to start making changes. Headings for blogs for host organisation This research was commissioned for use by the host organisation Evocco to increase their understanding of the relationship between healthy food choices and sustainability. It is also to be used to communicate this knowledge to users and customers via a well-designed food-rating app that will calculate beneficial food choices. To assist with this communication a number of blogs will be written based on the various findings from this study. These blog titles are listed below: 1. Helping to define the perfect diet to save the plant 2. The history of nutrient sufficient diets 3. The challenge of feeding 9.8 billion people in 2050 4. Why is the focus on reducing GHG emissions in the food chain? 5. The complex nature of defining what to eat across varying cultural and social norms 6. How to measure the sustainability of food 7. Environmental considerations at lunch time 8. Linking your diet to environmental sustainability 9. Eating less meat to save the planet and save yourself 10. Why agricultural land use practices are responsible for ecosystem degradation
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