Environmental impact of food products and difficulties in quantifying them

Author: Éva Erdélyi, Tímea Jakuschné Kocsis, Judit Lovasné Avató


Agricultural production, the food industry and the transportation of foods all pollute our environment. Of the various aspects of the environmental impact, more and more attention is paid to the contribution of the food industry to greenhouse gas emission, and thus to climate change. There is a large number of studies in the international literature on comparing the gas emissions during the manufacture of plant and animal products, or on the measurement of greenhouse gas emissions during the manufacture of various agricultural and food products. These quantities may be given cumulatively in carbon dioxide equivalent, which is called the carbon footprint of the product, but the methods used to calculate them are not standardized. The guidance of PAS 2070 or standard ISO14067 may be used. These methods are based on product life cycle analysis (LCA), i.e., they provide the amount of greenhouse gas produced in the manufacturing process, after taking into account the resources used in manufacture of the product, the raw materials used, the production of the packaging materials, transportation and the energy use. In many cases, food reaches the consumer at the end of a long supply chain. The part of the product life cycle related to becoming waste and waste management can also be considered. In this case, a “from cradle to cradle” approach to life cycle analysis is followed. However, it is difficult to gather the appropriate data for the compilation of the raw material map and for process mapping; in our paper, this is presented through an example that may seem simple at first. It is particularly difficult if the goal is to determine the carbon footprint of not foods to be placed on the counters, but prepared foods consumed in restaurants. It is important to set boundaries during process evaluation within which the carbon footprint of a certain part of the entire chain can be calculated reliably on the basis of reliable data.



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