Balanced nutrition: food and its impact on the environment

ANDThe sheer variety of the assortment in the supermarket makes it difficult to decide what should go to the shopping trolley and then to the dining table. If you also want to have a healthy diet and also pay attention to the environment, it becomes really difficult. The nutritional information on the packaging helps you to eat a balanced diet, but what about the ecological footprint? Is soybean schnitzel better than ready-made soup or frozen pizza?

In a recent study, researchers at the University of Oxford are analyzing for the first time how more than 57,000 products available in supermarkets affect the environment. As reported by a team led by Michael Clark and Richard Harrington in Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences, many food and finished products that have been tested, especially those with good nutritional composition, have little environmental impact.

Climatic and environmental aspects are important or very important to 84 percent of Germans when it comes to food. This is according to the latest nutrition report of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. At the same time, 27 percent. feels less or not at all well-informed about the appropriate connections. Many consumers feel overwhelmed when it comes to making organic food choices. Scientific research on the subject usually concerns emissions from the corresponding production of fruit, vegetables, meat or cereals. However, supermarket products often consist of a combination of several ingredients, so it has been difficult to quantify their overall environmental impact.

What about emissions, land and water consumption?

In order to be able to assess the ecological footprint of such blended products, the Oxford research team developed its own algorithm which it used to record the overall impact of over 57,000 food and drink products available in the UK retail sector. For example, scientists quantified how food and its ingredients affect greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water consumption. All these factors have been equally taken into account. Since the exact ingredient amounts were only known for about three percent of the products, the exact composition had to be estimated in most cases from other data in order to start the calculation.

However, important factors such as the country of origin or the location of the production facilities were not taken into account as this information was usually not available. However, as they play a key role and their absence limits the analysis, the researchers used a stochastic simulation instead: they determined the average product impact factor based on different possible methods and locations for agricultural production. However, it remains questionable whether these simulations reflect how much different environmental impacts could be if, for example, blueberries are not from the region but from Peru.

In any case, from the data collected, the researchers determined a single composite environmental impact score for one hundred grams of each product, ranging from 0 (none) to 100 (highest impact). “This is the first time we have a transparent and comparable method for assessing the ecological footprint of processed foods with several ingredients,” sums up co-author Peter Scarborough in a press release for the population. “This type of food accounts for the majority of our supermarket purchases, but so far it has not been possible to compare their environmental impact.” However, when looking at the results of this analysis, it should be remembered that the calculated impact value always increases to 100 grams. Portion sizes that may deviate significantly from this value are ignored.

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