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Environmental Impacts of Diet Changes

Evaluating the environmental consequences of diet changes in the European Union.

2007 - 2008
Rene Kleijn
European Commission


In June 2006 the European Council adopted its revised Sustainable Development Strategy. Key priorities formed the topic of Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) and the related environmental product policy. In 2004, the Institute for Prospective Technical Studies (DG JRC IPTS) launched the Environmental Impacts of Products (EIPRO) study. This study was published in 2006 and showed that food (particularly meat and dairy), mobility and housing including energy using products cause the majority of environmental impacts related to final consumption expenditure. As a follow-up to EIPRO, JRC IPTS launched the Improvement of Products (IMPRO) series of studies. These aim to analyse how the environmental performance of products and services in the three aforementioned areas can be improved. 

The IMPRO study on meat and dairy products presented a systematic overview of the life cycle of meat and dairy products and their environmental impacts, covering the full food chain. It provided a comprehensive analysis of the improvement options that allow reducing the environmental impacts throughout the life cycle, and assessed the different options regarding their feasibility as well as their potential environmental and socioeconomic benefits and costs. The report showed that meat and dairy products contribute on average 24% to the environmental impacts from the total final consumption in EU-27, while constituting only 6% of the economic value. The main improvement options were identified in agricultural production, in food management by households (avoidance of food wastage), and related to power savings. 

In the IMPRO study improvement options were explored along the food supply chain assuming that dietary habits remain constant. However, results of EIPRO and IMPRO research indicate that changed dietary habits have the potential for improved environmental impacts as well. IPTS hence launched a study analysing the environmental impacts of diet changes in EU27. 

For the development of alternative diets recommendations for healthier nutrition served as a guideline, because evidence has been gathered throughout the past decades that dietary habits can have an important effect on human health. As recommendations from WHO, EFSA and other relvant sources indicated the need to reduce consumption of red meat and dairy products to reduce negative health impacts, the design of alternative diets for this study could be directly developed on that basis. 

  The overall aim of the study was in summary:

  • to quantify currently prevailing diets in EU27,
  • to develop alternative diets with positive health impacts,
  • to analyse, quantify and compare environmental benefits related to these diets, and
  • to identify policy options for the dissemination of healthy diets
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