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Dietary choices and greenhouse gas emissions - Assessment of impact of vegetarian and organic options at national scale

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This study quantifies the sources of agricultural GHG emissions and explores the impact of diet on GHG emissions in Finland. The emissions associated with production of basic food items were quantified for four diet options. For current average food consumption, emissions from soil represent 62% of the total. The emissions due to enteric fermentation contribute 24%, and energy consumption and fertiliser manufacture both about 8%. Regarding GHG emissions, environmental performance of the extensive organic production is poor. A strict vegan diet would nearly halve the agricultural GHG emissions, but reduction of the total emissions would be about 8%. Reducing the GHG emissions through food consumption would require large-scale changes among the entire population. Instead of stressing the impact of individual citizens' diet choices, more attention should be paid to social learning. Attention should be paid to the overall sustainability of food supply, not only to the GHG emissions.
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340 Progress in Industrial Ecology – An International Journal, Vol. 6, No. 4, 2009
Copyright © 2009 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.
Dietary choices and greenhouse gas emissions –
assessment of impact of vegetarian and organic
options at national scale
Helmi Risku-Norja*
Economic Research,
MTT Agrifood Research Finland,
31600 Jokioinen, Finland
Email: helmi.risku-norja@mtt.fi
*Corresponding author
Sirpa Kurppa
Biotechnology and Food Research,
MTT Agrifood Research Finland,
31600 Jokioinen, Finland
Email: sirpa.kurppa@mtt.fi
Juha Helenius
Department of Agricultural Sciences,
University of Helsinki,
Finland
Email: juha.helenius@helsinki.fi
Abstract: This study quantifies the sources of agricultural GHG emissions and
explores the impact of diet on GHG emissions in Finland. The emissions
associated with production of basic food items were quantified for four diet
options. For current average food consumption, emissions from soil represent
62% of the total. The emissions due to enteric fermentation contribute 24%,
and energy consumption and fertiliser manufacture both about 8%. Regarding
GHG emissions, environmental performance of the extensive organic
production is poor. A strict vegan diet would nearly halve the agricultural GHG
emissions, but reduction of the total emissions would be about 8%. Reducing
the GHG emissions through food consumption would require large-scale
changes among the entire population. Instead of stressing the impact of
individual citizens’ diet choices, more attention should be paid to social
learning. Attention should be paid to the overall sustainability of food supply,
not only to the GHG emissions.
Keywords: food consumption; per capita per annum; vegan and non-ruminant
diet; conventional and organic production; sources of agricultural GHG.
Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Risku-Norja, H.,
Kurppa, S. and Helenius, J. (2009) ‘Dietary choices and greenhouse gas
emissions – assessment of impact of vegetarian and organic options at national
scale’, Progress in Industrial Ecology – An International Journal, Vol. 6,
No. 4, pp.340–354.
Dietary choices and greenhouse gas emissions 341
Biographical notes: Helmi Risku-Norja is a Senior Research Scientist with
educational background in natural sciences and education. She has been
working at the MTT Agrifood Research Finland since 1997 in projects dealing
with material flows, eco-efficiency and environmental impacts of agriculture.
In the recent years her research activity has been shifted towards sustainability
research with focus on rural issues, local food, sustainability and food
education.
Sirpa Kurppa is Professor at the MTT Agrifood Research Finland, and has
more than 25 years of research experience incorporating environmental issues
into production of arable and horticultural plant biomasses and implementation
of the key issues of sustainable development into food and feed chain and rural
entrepreneurship. The concrete tools in the research are the supply chain
management based LCA (Life Cycle Assessment), ecodesign of food and rural
products and a foresight approach in rural development and in rural-urban
interaction.
Juha Helenius is Professor of Agroecology at University of Helsinki. He has
studied biological diversity and landscape change in agriculture, and more
recently, issues dealing with ecological sustainability of food production and
consumption systems.
1 Introduction
There is growing concern about the environmental impacts of food production, and
attempts to slow down climate change are not compatible with continuously increasing
use of non-renewable fossil energy in food production and for transport. The environmental
consequences of food production have increasingly concerned Greenhouse Gas (GHG)
emissions, and discussion has focused particularly on dairy cattle whose enteric fermentation
produces considerably more methane than is produced from pork and poultry production
(Steinfeld et al., 2006).
The benefits of organic production over conventional production appear to be widely
accepted in public discussion (EC, 2005; Isoniemi et al., 2006; EU, 2007). One of the
central arguments is absence of chemical fertilisers in organic production, the manufacture
of which consumes large amounts of fossil fuel with consequent GHG emissions
(IFOAM, 2007). As a response to the growing concern about the environment, large-
scale organic production has been offered as an overall solution to the environmental
problems of agriculture worldwide created by the present global food markets (Halberg
et al., 2006; Badgley et al., 2007; IFOAM, 2007).
It has been also argued on environmental grounds that a vegetarian diet would pay
dividends (Helms and Aiking, 2003; Keyzer et al., 2003; Zhu and Ierland, 2004; Vinnari
et al., 2005). Increasing the share of locally grown vegetarian products was shown to
reduce GHG emissions when compared with diets more reliant on imported vegetables
and animal products (EEA, 2005; Foster et al., 2006), but the impact of dietary choice
has also been questioned (Wallén et al., 2004).
There is a strong belief that consumers can make a positive contribution to reducing
the environmental load through food purchases by substituting animal-based products,
especially dairy cattle products, for vegetarian products (Ministry of the Environment,
2008). These changes in purchasing are encouraged through various tools designed for
consumers (Hansmann et al., 2005; Hyvönen and Perrels, 2008; PATT, 2008). Public
342 H. Risku-Norja, S. Kurppa and J. Helenius
discussion is lively, and the interest in personal carbon emissions suggests that among
environmentally aware consumers there is a willingness to change individual food
consumption habits.
This study addresses these questions in light of data from Finland, where the contribution
of the whole food production chain to the total GHG emissions is about 24% (Mäenpää,
2004). Organic production has been established as an alternative production mode, although
about 6.5% share from farming (MMM, 2008) is fairly modest. The available farmland
would, however, allow significant increase in organic production without compromising
the degree of food self-sufficiency (Lötjönen et al., 2004; Risku-Norja et al., 2008).
Milk products represent about 30% of the average Finnish diet and beef comprises
26% of the meat consumed. About 40% of the consumed beef is a side product of milk
production. Dairy products together with beef provide, thus, 33% of the total energy
intake in the current average Finnish diet (MMM, 2007). Although the consumption of
vegetable products has been slowly increasing during recent decades, compared with the
national standard dietary recommendations, current average food consumption in Finland
is still biased towards animal products (MMM, 2007). Currently only about 1–5% of
Finns are vegetarians, some of whom eat fish, eggs and/or milk products. The number of
orthodox vegans is about 0.43% (Vinnari et al., 2009). More often the reasons for
veganism concern personal health, animal welfare or simply food price rather than
environmental considerations (Väänänen and Mäkelä, 2007).
Various surveys have shown that Finnish consumers prefer domestic products to
imported ones and often also organic to conventional food, if such products are reasonably
priced (Isoniemi et al., 2006). It was reported, however, that consumers more often
express their ideals about food choices rather than make actual choices (Piiroinen and
Järvelä, 2006). Nevertheless, through the demand-supply mechanism consumers are
identified as important actors in deciding the fate of domestic, and specifically of
organic, food production (e.g. Hyvönen and Perrels, 2008).
The focus of this paper is the agricultural GHG emissions. The contribution of soil,
fertiliser manufacture, energy consumption and the animals’ enteric fermentation and
dung to total agricultural GHG emissions is quantified, and the GHG emissions in
primary food production are compared for four diet scenarios: present day ‘business as
usual’ average food consumption, a nutritionally balanced diet based on national health
impact dietary recommendations, a diet with no milk products and with no ruminant
meat, and a vegan diet. Also, the GHG emissions associated with conventional and
organic production are compared. The aim is to assess how such diet and/or production
system choices, if generalised to the entire nation, would contribute to the goals of
reducing GHG emissions in agriculture, in the food chain as a whole and in total. Using
such a scenario assessment we wish to stimulate critical discussion on the environmental
impacts of food consumption patterns, with the possibilities for consumer choices to
‘save the planet’.
2 Material and methods
The study deals with the GHG emissions from agricultural production, including fertiliser
use and energy consumption, of the food necessary to satisfy Finnish consumption
requirements. Domestic production meets the need of about 85% of the basic foodstuffs
currently consumed in Finland (MMM, 2007). In this study it was assumed that meat,
milk, eggs, fish, grains, potato, sugar, oil seeds, vegetables, fruit, berries and feed for
animal husbandry were domestically produced. This is an approximation as imports
Dietary choices and greenhouse gas emissions 343
balance the exports of some of these commodities. Fully imported food items that are not
possible to produce in the boreal agriculture of Finland, i.e. mainly citrus fruit and rice,
were not considered in the calculations. Exclusion of these items is justified by assuming
that the studied diet scenarios would share equal amounts of consumption of these. Wild
berries and even fish in the Finnish case are not agricultural products, and these items
were ignored in the calculations.
The field area needed to produce food plants and fodder for livestock to meet
consumption demand was calculated on the basis of the following data: food consumption
(MMM, 2007), feed requirements of production animals (Tuori et al., 2002), long-term
average yield per hectare of various food and feed crops, output per animal of various
animal products and factors converting yields to food (MMM, 2008). The number of
different production animals to satisfy annual demand for animal products was calculated
on the basis of these data.
The greenhouse gases considered here comprise methane (CH4) from enteric
fermentation of the production animals, CH4 from dung, carbon dioxide (CO2) and
nitrous oxide (N2O) from agricultural soil as well as the CO2 associated with fertiliser use
and agricultural energy consumption. The CH4 emissions from production animals were
quantified using the animal-specific emission factors (Statistics Finland, 2007), and the
emissions of N2O and CH4 from dung were calculated on the basis of published data
(Pipatti, 2001). For the GHG emissions from soil, the average Finnish annual value of
2819 kg CO2 equivalents ha1 (Statistics Finland, 2007) was used. The emissions from
fertiliser manufacture were calculated using the value 2.28 kg CO2 equivalents kg1 total
fertiliser and assuming application of fertilisers according to the terms of the Finnish
environmental subsidy scheme (Puurunen et al., 2004), under which ca. 90% of farms
and farmland is operated. The energy consumption, electricity and fuel oil, for the
various agricultural products, was obtained from farm model data (Risku-Norja and
Mäenpää, 2007). The associated GHG emissions were calculated using the emission
factor 2.68 g CO2 l1 for oil, and 250 g CO2 kWh1 for electricity (Foster et al., 2006).
The GHG emissions into the atmosphere were expressed as CO2 equivalents, and the
conversion factor of 21 for CH4 and 310 for N2O were used (IPCC, 2005). The details of
the calculations and the exact figures for the calculation parameters were published in a
separate report (Risku-Norja et al., 2007).
A special feature of the Finnish food system is a relatively large proportion of meat
from game, especially elk (Alces alces), and from reindeer (Rangifer tarandus). Reindeer
meat and game meat together represent only about 2.5% of consumed food (MMM,
2007), but this amount is associated with large populations of the animals. In estimating
the GHG emissions associated with wild elk and with extensively herded reindeer the
whole supporting population1 was accounted for, and only metabolic methane production
from these sources was included. No GHG emission factors are available for reindeer and
game animals, and the CH4 emissions were approximated by using the factors associated
with ewes for reindeer and deer, and those with beef cattle for elk.
The national diet scenarios, for which the GHG emissions in agriculture were
approximated, were:
BAU: the present day ‘business as usual’ average Finnish diet.
NUH: a nutritionally balanced diet based on national health impact dietary
recommendations, and including an increased share of food of plant origin,
reduced share of food of animal origin, and only 60% of the present day milk
consumption (Helakorpi et al., 2003).
344 H. Risku-Norja, S. Kurppa and J. Helenius
REX: a ‘ruminants excluded’ diet with no milk products and with no ruminant meat;
pork and poultry replacing beef and mutton.
VEG: a vegan diet with no milk and meat products and introducing an oat-based milk
substitute at a level equal to the current day milk consumption; according to the
ingredient declaration of the commercial product, the milk substitute contains
10% oat, which corresponds with 100 grams extra oat per capita per day.
The GHG emissions were quantified for each basic food item in each scenario on an
annual per capita basis. In compiling the dietary options the total energy intake was kept
constant, and the options were nutritionally balanced in terms of reasonable daily intakes
of carbohydrates, fats and proteins (Table 1).
Table 1 The dietary options used in the GHG calculations and expressed on the basis of
daily per capita consumption
BAU NUH REX VEG
g kJ g kJ g kJ kJ
Wheat 132 1887 148 2118 160 2290 160 2290
Rye 45 584 70 918 70 918 70 918
Barey 3 35 15 213 20 284 20 284
Oat 12 180 25 374 80 1196 140 2093
Rice* 14 217 11 171 11 171 14 211
Potato 191 595 250 777 250 777 250 777
Sugar 85 1414 81 1346 70 1163 60 995
Vegetable oils 15 542 20 744 27 1004 49 1822
Pea 3 45 5 68 5 68 17 232
Vegetables, excl. tomatoes 116 126 230 251 232 253 233 254
Fruit, excl.citrus 93 206 152 339 152 339 125 278
Garden berries 19 40 85 348 85 348 85 348
Wild berries* 19 40 152 623 152 623 152 622
Citrus fruit* 13 35 13 36 13 36 0 0
Tomato 31 26 35 30 35 30 35 30
Eggs 26 164 30 193 35 225 0 0
Milk 1082 3257 680 1503 0 0 0 0
Beef 51 396 32 250 0 0 0 0
Pork 94 848 35 316 75 677 0 0
Poultry 43 262 45 273 82 497 0 0
Mutton 1 11 1 9 0 0 0 0
Reindeer, game 8 34 8 33 8 33 0 0
Offals* 4 22 4 23 4 23 0 0
Fish* 37 187 39 199 39 199 0 0
kJ, Total 11153 11153 11153 11153
Notes: BAU – current average food consumption; NUH – nutritionally balanced diet
based on dietary recommendations; REX – diet with no milk products and with
no beef or mutton; VEG – vegan diet.
*Not accounted for in the GHG calculations.
Dietary choices and greenhouse gas emissions 345
For comparison of conventional and organic production options, the GHG emissions
were first calculated on the basis of conventional production. Subsequently the impact of
organic production on the emissions was estimated using three simplifying approximations:
1 manufactured fertilisers not used in organic
2 for the same amount of production extensive organic production needed 30% more
cultivated area (Kirchmann et al., 2007; Risku-Norja and Mäenpää, 2007)
3 the feed requirements of the animals were the same as in conventional production,
consequently also the output per animal was the same.
3 Results
The results from quantifying the GHG emissions for the basic food items in the four
dietary options suggest that dietary choice makes a great difference. Comparing the present
day average food consumption (BAU) with the purely vegan diet (VEG), the GHG
emissions of the primary phase of food production would be approximately halved. The
other options would also result in apparently significant reductions in GHG emissions.
If the food was produced organically, the GHG emissions of the diet options would be
approximately 20% higher (Figure 1).
Figure 1 GHG emissions due to primary food production associated with the four dietary
options, kg CO2 equivalents per capita per annum. ‘Soil’ comprises food and fodder
production, ‘livestock’ comprises the GHG emissions from the manure and metabolism
0
500
1000
1500
2000
2500
BAU
con
BAU
org
REX
con
REX
org
NUH
con
NUH
org
VEG
con
VEG
org
soil energy livestock fertilizer s
Notes: BAU – current average food consumption; NUH – nutritionally balanced diet
based on dietary recommendations; REX – diet with no milk products and with
no beef or mutton; VEG – vegan diet; con – conventional production; org –
organic production.
346 H. Risku-Norja, S. Kurppa and J. Helenius
The GHG emissions were quantified for the primary production. The total annual GHG
emissions for Finnish consumption are about 11,000 kg CO2 per capita, of which the
share from food is 24% or about 2600 kg (Mäenpää, 2004). The figure includes also the
emissions associated with imported items that are produced abroad for Finnish
consumption. The approximately 1700 kg CO2 equivalents from agriculture comprise
73% of the GHG emissions associated with food. Therefore, the impact of dietary choice
on total personal GHG emissions, depending on the diet option, ranges from about 2.6%
to 7.5% reduction in the total per capita emissions due to Finnish consumption of goods
and services. The impact on the total GHG emissions of the Finnish economy is even less,
2.2–6.6% (Table 2). This is because the emissions associated with the Finnish export
industry comprise about 42% of the total GHG emissions of the Finnish economy
(Mäenpää, 2004), and these are not included in the GHG emissions associated with
Finnish consumption.
Table 2 GHG emissions for the four dietary options, and, in comparison to BAU, reduction
achievable (kg CO2 equiv. per capita per annum). The relative reduction achievable in
emissions from agriculture, from food consumption, from domestic consumption, and
from national emissions (%) is also shown
BAU NUH REX VEG
GHG emissions of primary production, kg CO2 equiv. 1692 1421 1134 879
Reduction of the GHG emissions, kg CO2 equiv. 270 558 812
Reduction compared to GHG emissions of agriculture, % 16.0 33.0 48.0
Reduction compared to GHG emissions of food consumption, % 10.8 22.9 34.2
Reduction compared to total GHG emissions of consumption, % 2.57 5.17 7.53
Reduction compared to total GHG emissions of Finnish economy, % 2.19 4.52 6.59
Notes: BAU – current average food consumption; NUH – nutritionally balanced diet
based on dietary recommendations; REX – diet with no milk products and with
no beef or mutton; VEG – vegan diet.
The relative contributions of cultivated soils, fertiliser manufacture, agricultural energy
consumption and animals to the GHG emissions from primary production, food
production, total GHG emissions of Finnish consumption and total emissions of the
Finnish economy are shown in Table 3. Depending on the dietary option, the soil
represents 62–82% of the emissions from primary production, the fertilisers 7–8%,
agricultural energy consumption 8–11% and livestock metabolism and dung 0–24%.
However, the relative shares of the agricultural GHG emissions are effectively diluted
when compared with the total emissions or even with the emissions associated with food
consumption.
3.1 Reliability of the results
The conversion factors for N2O and CH4 are internationally accepted values (310 for
N2O, 21 for CH4, IPCC, 2005),2 and the calculations for farmland requirements are based
on the long-term national averages of yield and production levels, which are the best
available data. The primary energy consumption and the CH4, CO2 and N2O emissions
associated with fertiliser manufacture and transport were deduced from the data of a
single study (Grönroos et al., 2005) assuming consumption of 3.6 MJ primary energy
per kWh and emissions equivalent to 250 g CO2 per kWh. The obtained emission factor
Dietary choices and greenhouse gas emissions 347
2.28 kg CO2 equivalents kg1 total fertiliser (inclusive phosphorus and potassium) is very
close to the value of 1.98 kg CO2 equivalents kg1 N-fertiliser based on the LCA data
from Yara (Frank, pers. com. 2009). Thus, the results regarding CO2 equivalents
associated with fertiliser manufacture appear also reliable and express the relative
differences between the dietary options fairly accurately. Data on agricultural energy
consumption are somewhat less accurate. Since no data were available for several of the
organic production lines, the missing data were approximated assuming that the energy
consumption in organic plant cultivation is 10% and in organic animal production 23%
higher compared with conventional production; the percentages represent the average
difference between organic and conventional production in the available data.
Table 3 Relative contribution of the soil, fertilisers, energy consumption and livestock on
GHG emissions from agriculture, food consumption, total consumption and the
Finnish economy for the four dietary options
BAU NUH REX VEG
Share from the GHG of agriculture, %
Soil 61.7 66.2 76.1 82.6
Fertilisers 6.78 6.94 7.18 7.91
Energy consumption 7.39 8.51 10.5 9.47
Livestock 24.1 18.4 6.3 0.0
Share from the GHG of food consumption, %
Soil 40.6 37.5 35.4 30.6
Fertilisers 4.46 3.94 3.34 2.92
Energy consumption 4.86 4.83 4.87 3.50
Livestock 15.9 10.42 2.94 0.00
Share from total GHG emissions of consumption, %
Soil 9.68 8.94 8.44 7.28
Fertilisers 1.06 0.94 8.44 0.70
Energy consumption 1.16 1.15 1.16 0.83
Livestock 3.78 2.48 0.70 0.00
Share from total GHG emissions of Finnish economy, %
Soil 8.29 7.62 7.33 6.63
Fertilisers 0.91 0.80 0.69 0.63
Energy consumption 0.99 0.98 1.01 0.76
Livestock 3.23 2.12 0.61 0.00
Notes: BAU – current average food consumption; NUH – nutritionally balanced diet
based on dietary recommendations; REX – diet with no milk products and with
no beef or mutton; VEG – vegan diet.
The annual GHG emissions of 1692 kg CO2 equivalents per capita presented here
for current food consumption are very close to the 1658 kg CO2 equivalents calculated
using the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, www.ipcc.ch) approach,
including only the GHG emissions from soils and livestock (Statistics Finland, 2007).
Adding the GHG emissions associated with fertiliser manufacture and energy consumption
to the IPCC figure would result in somewhat higher emissions than obtained here. The
348 H. Risku-Norja, S. Kurppa and J. Helenius
difference is explained by the fact that in reality the production from animal husbandry in
Finland is somewhat in excess of the domestic demand, and this is accounted for in the
IPCC calculations, which are based on actual animal numbers, whereas the present
calculations are based on the amount of food consumed.
The emissions associated with reindeer and game ruminants are very rough estimates.
For lack of specific emission factors, the factors were chosen on the basis of animal size.
The main purpose of including reindeer and game in the study was to draw attention to
and stimulate research on this issue.
4 Discussion
Primary production is reported by Foster et al. (2006) to be responsible for
approximately 60–90% of GHG emissions in the food chain; this is in agreement with the
73% obtained in the present study. The major source of GHG emissions during primary
food production is the cultivated soil. Fertiliser manufacture represents less than 10%,
and the contribution from agricultural energy consumption is of the same order of
magnitude (Table 3). Therefore, regarding GHG emissions, the environmental
performance of extensive organic production is poor compared with conventional
production as it involves increased cultivated acreage and consequently also higher
consumption of fuel energy in comparison with conventional cultivation. Similar results
have been reported elsewhere (Foster et al., 2006; Thomassen et al., 2006), although
improving knowledge on soil carbon storage and nitrous oxide emissions could change
current thinking (Niggli et al., 2008).
However, there are environmental impacts other than GHG emissions, and the
positive impact of organic farming on biodiversity was demonstrated in several studies
(Bengtsson et al., 2005; Fuller et al., 2005; Hole et al., 2005). Assessments of farming
practices, including prohibition of biocide use, crop rotation, mulching and use of cover
crops indicate environmental benefits from organic farming (Pimentel et al., 2005;
Gliessman, 2007) and organic production has been emphasised as one contributing factor
in promoting sustainable agriculture within the EU (EC, 2005). The importance of
diversity of cultivated species has been lately stressed at global scale, and instead of
focusing production on the three major cereals, rice, wheat and maize, there is a need to
revive the local food plant species and cultivars and landrace animals in order to secure
both the species and genetic diversity necessary for food production and adequate
nutrition as well as to provide material for breeding new genotypes to secure adaptation to
changing environments (Lang and Heasman, 2004).
Global food security is a growing challenge as the world population increases and the
area of farmland per capita continuously shrinks. At the same time, as a consequence of
improving living standards, use of animal products is increasing (WRI, 2006), which
increases both environmental and health costs of food production. A solution is not
provided by global organic food markets, because ‘big organic’ has increasingly become
part of the mainstream global food trade controlled by large agrifood corporations
(Follett, 2009). It is characterised by large-scale industrial mode of production with
monocultures and competition based on price and efficiency (Pollan, 2006). It also means
placeless food, with the producers and consumers distanced from each other (Follett,
2009). International trade means long-distance transport, increased energy consumption
and greater GHG emissions (Schlich and Fleissner, 2005; Foster et al., 2006; Pimentel
and Pimentel, 2007).
Dietary choices and greenhouse gas emissions 349
The actual capacity of organic agriculture should be seriously considered at local
and national scales before advocating large-scale shifts towards more extensive organic
production. The available farmland per capita in Finland is about 0.43 hectares, which is
enough for food self-sufficiency, inclusive of the production of animal feed based on
domestic cultivars, and to secure independence from import of basic food and feed items.
With increased vegetarian food consumption, national food self-sufficiency in Finland
could be based on organic production (Risku-Norja et al., 2008).
Dietary choice appears to have an impact on GHG emissions. Choosing the vegan
diet over the current average diet, GHG emissions from primary food production would
be nearly halved. Because food represents only about 24% of the total GHG emissions
(Mäenpää, 2004) and agriculture comprises about 70% of the GHG of food production,
such a radical change in food consumption would mean a reduction of about 7% in the
total per capita GHG emissions attributable to consumption. Moreover, the
environmental benefits of vegan diets are not clear-cut. It has been shown that increasing
the share of vegetarian products in the diet decreases nutrient surpluses and greenhouse
gas and acid emissions. On the other hand, strictly vegan diet as a policy choice is not
optimal in terms of effect on the diversity of wild species (Risku-Norja et al., 2008). This
is because areas covered with vegetation throughout the year are especially important for
maintenance of diversity of wild species in agro-environments. Grasslands, green
fallows, and cultivated and natural pastures all secure habitat heterogeneity and provide
abundant ecological niches for farmland birds, overwintering invertebrates and for game
species, some of which have recently become rare or extinct (Benton et al., 2003;
Weibull et al., 2003; Hietala-Koivu et al., 2004). These areas have been created by and
are maintained to a large extent by dairy cattle and other grazing animals.
As regards climate change, it is the total absolute volume of GHG emitted into the
atmosphere that is crucial, not the percentage reduction in personal GHG emissions. To
achieve a significant (several percents) reduction in total national volume of GHG
emissions would require large-scale changes in the average Finnish food consumption
habits. Even then the impact on total emissions would only amount to a few percent.
Such dramatic changes are hardly realistic because food system is rigid, food is cultural,
and consumer attitudes towards food and consumer behaviour are not consistent; citizens
express various demands and wishes that change over time and depend on general overall
trends and personal circumstance, including purchasing power. The direct impact of the
changes on individual food consumption habits on the environment is, therefore,
restricted and can only be gauged over a very long time span, if at all.
As in the case of ethical consumption, diffusion of the idea of sustainable food
consumption requires social learning (Brekke et al., 2003; Starr, 2009; Young, 2009).
Compared with individual citizens, institutional consumers and public catering represent
a more homogeneous consumer group with somewhat better prerequisites for consistent
behaviour. If public catering were committed to the principles of sustainable food
provisioning, it could provide a more effective channel for improving sustainability in the
food sector. This is done already to some extent through the sheer volume of public food
purchases, but most importantly through food and sustainability education for citizens.
Public catering already plays an important role in guiding nutritional behaviour among
Finns, and it has contributed to increased use of vegetarian products and improved public
health (Helakorpi et al., 2003). Similarly to nutritional education, public catering could
take an active role in social learning by providing a clear signal regarding the kind of
food that meets the sustainability criteria.
350 H. Risku-Norja, S. Kurppa and J. Helenius
Sustainable food supply includes socio-cultural and ethical aspects as well as
economic feasibility; it is not merely a matter of ecological sustainability and ecological
sustainability is not merely a matter of GHG emissions. The basic requirement is for
adequate production of food, and every nation should have the right to basic food
security. Initiatives for sustainable catering have emerged in Italy, UK, Denmark and in
Sweden, among other countries, featuring the use of local and organic food (Morgan
and Sonnino, 2005; Mikkelsen et al., 2007). The Finnish committee for sustainable
production and consumption proposed that the use of organic and local food by
catering organisations is to be increased annually by 10–15%. However, to date, the
recommendation has not been realised and, at present, customers are rarely informed
about the origin and production ethics of the food provided by public catering (Ministry
of the Environment, 2008).
In general, the prerequisite for sustainable consumption is to introduce services to
substitute for material consumption. Although food itself cannot be substituted, a lot can
be done at the household level to improve sustainability of food provisioning (Halme
et al., 2006; Virtanen et al., 2009). Responsibility for sustainable food consumption cannot
solely be pushed onto the consumers, and recommendations alone are not sufficient.
There is a need to develop effective policy measures and instruments with the primary
aim of improving overall sustainability of food provisioning (Collins and Fairchild,
2007).
5 Conclusions
The major source of GHG from food production is cultivated soil. Contribution from
fertiliser manufacture and agricultural energy consumption is small compared with the
GHG emissions from soil. With the current food consumption the share of GHG
represented by animals is about 24%. Regarding GHG, the environmental performance of
organic production is poor compared with conventional production.
The impact of giving up animal husbandry on total GHG emissions could result,
at maximum, in about 7% reduction in total emissions for all consumption. To have
any impact on the actual volume of GHG emissions through changed food consumption
would require large-scale changes among the whole population and a shared view of the
extent of the necessary changes. Instead of stressing the impact of individual citizens’
food choices, more attention should be paid to designing effective policy instruments and
to social learning. Public catering has the potential to exert a positive influence through
volume of food purchases and setting an example by implementing food and sustainability
education for its own activities. Consumer information is important from the viewpoint
of food and sustainability education, leading eventually to adopting more sustainable
lifestyles in the coming generations.
Environmental considerations for food production and consumption should not be
restricted to GHG emissions. Rather than focusing on the environment, low carbon diets
and carbon bonuses, or on organic versus conventional comparisons, attention should be
paid to overall sustainability of food supply.
Dietary choices and greenhouse gas emissions 351
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Notes
1 200,000 reindeer, 84,000 elk and 5000 white-tailed deer (pers. com. Aslak Ermala, Finnish
Game and Fisheries Research Institute, October 2008).
2 The new values 298 for N2O and 25 for CH4 are not yet widely applied (IPCC, 2006).
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Various organic technologies have been utilized for about 6000 years to make agriculture sustainable while conserving soil, water, energy, and biological resources. Among the benefits of organic technologies are higher soil organic matter and nitrogen, lower fossil energy inputs, yields similar to those of conventional systems, and conservation of soil moisture and water resources (especially advantageous under drought conditions). Conventional agriculture can be made more sustainable and ecologically sound by adopting some traditional organic farming technologies.
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This book provides an overview of the potential role of organic agriculture in a global perspective. Initially, the book provides a description of global trends in agriculture followed by discussions on sustainability, globalization and the relatively new concepts of 'ecological justice' and 'political ecology'. Different views on economy and trade are discussed with a focus on ecological economics. Then, the status and possibilities of organic agriculture in developing countries are discussed, including problems of nutrient cycles and soil depletion plus issues on veterinary medicine. Furthermore, organic farming is related to the world food supply. The possibilities of knowledge exchange in organic agriculture are also evaluated and how a large-scale conversion to organic agriculture would impact on food security. Finally, prospects and challenges of organic farming in a globalized world are discussed in a synthesis chapter. This book will be of interest to researchers in organic agriculture, agricultural economics and rural development as well as NGO workers and policy makers. The book has 12 chapters and a subject index.
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The potential for and environmental consequences of localising primary production of food were investigated by considering different food consumption patterns, based on conventional and organic production. Environmental impact was assessed according to agricultural land use and numbers of production animals, both of which depend on food consumption. The results were quantified in terms of nutrient balances, greenhouse gas and acid emissions and the diversity of crop cultivation, which indicate eutrophication of watersheds, climate change and landscape changes, respectively. The study region was able to satisfy its own needs for all farming and food consumption scenarios. Dietary choice had a marked impact on agricultural land use and on the environmental parameters considered. Organic farming for local food production resulted in higher greenhouse gas emissions. Compared with mixed diets, the vegetarian diet was associated with lower emissions and nutrient surpluses, but also with reduced crop diversity. The arable areas allocated to leys and pastures were also smaller. The study area represents a predominantly rural region and is a net exporter of agricultural produce. Therefore, only part of the environmental impact of food production results from local needs. Both the differences among the dietary options and the overall environmental benefit of localised primary food production were greatly reduced when considering total agricultural production of the region. Much of the negative impact of agriculture is due to food consumption in the densely populated urban areas, but the consequences are mainly felt in the production areas. The environmental impacts of localisation of primary food production for the rural areas are small and inconsistent. The results indicate the importance of defining 'local' on a regional basis and including the urban food sinks in impact assessment.
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What should we have for dinner? When you can eat just about anything nature (or the supermarket) has to offer, deciding what you should eat will inevitably stir anxiety, especially when some of the foods might shorten your life. Today, buffeted by one food fad after another, America is suffering from a national eating disorder. As the cornucopia of the modern American supermarket and fast food outlet confronts us with a bewildering and treacherous landscape, what's at stake becomes not only our own and our children's health, but the health of the environment that sustains life on earth. Pollan follows each of the food chains--industrial food, organic or alternative food, and food we forage ourselves--from the source to the final meal, always emphasizing our coevolutionary relationship with the handful of plant and animal species we depend on. The surprising answers Pollan offers have profound political, economic, psychological, and even moral implications for all of us.--From publisher description.
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The authors developed SIMULME, an Internet-based simulation game of the environmental and economic consequences of food consumption, to improve environmental knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of indi- viduals. The game was first applied with 215 pupils divided into 12 classes. Six classes were taught the con- sequences of food consumption using the learning game (experimental condition) and 6 using a standard lecture (control condition). Positive changes in environmental attitudes concerning nutrition behavior were more marked in the experimental than in the control condition. An additional experiment tested the game's effects on subsequent buying behavior. After playing the game (experimental) or not (control), participants entered the nutrition section of the online shop of the Swiss retailer Coop with the possibility of winning a purchase worth CHF 40. The consumption pattern of those who played SIMULME was ecologically more positive than that of the control participants. Aspects of game validity and game design are discussed with respect to the effectiveness of games for environmental education.
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On organic farms, nutrients are applied in organic or sparingly soluble inorganic form, with plants receiving the nutrients they require indirectly through the action of soil microbes. This review examines the implications of exclusive use of organic fertilizers for the sustainability of farming systems, primarily using examples from two contrasting regions, Europe and Australia. In both these regions, mean yields are generally 25-65% lower on organic farms than on conventional farms, primarily because of decreases in plant-available nutrients that cannot be overcome by enhancement of the soil biological community. Overall nutrient inputs are lower on organic farms, although organic farms in Europe are increasingly applying approved commercial fertilizers. However, these inputs simply allow organic farms to acquire nutrients originating from conventional systems. If organic crop production were to be widely adopted, lower yields would require more land (33-100%) to maintain current production levels. In Europe, organic farming increases nitrate leaching, especially if expressed per unit of food produced, because of lower N use efficiency by plants. Despite their aim of maximizing nutrient recycling, organic farming systems recycle only on-farm waste and approved food waste, with most types of municipal waste excluded due to concerns about pollutants. Readily soluble inorganic fertilizers can be extracted from municipal wastes through new nutrient recovery technologies, but current regulations do not allow their use in organic cropping systems. In conclusion, promotion of organic principles does not improve use and cycling of nutrients and does not reduce leaching of nutrients, but excludes other more effective solutions for nutrient use in agricultural systems.