PROFETAS Protein Foods, Environment, Technology and Society

The environment
The technology
The consumer
Economy & policy
Current issues

The environment

Three projects are concerned with the environmental sustainability of protein foods and the comparative evaluation of meat with NPFs.

Economic approach to environmental sustainability of protein foods
Intensive animal production systems in Europe, particularly in the Netherlands result in a series of environmental problems mainly due to manure surplus. This study aims to make contributions to identifying the solutions to the problems related to protein production and consumption.
The first contribution is the theoretical modelling of environmental problems. Theoretically we represent the environmental impacts by including the biophysical process of environmental changes and the feedback to the economy in welfare optimization and equilibrium models. However, this often brings non-convexities and thus has implications for policy recommendations, because a non-convex program usually has multiple local optima and has the difficulty of decentralization. Particularly we illustrate how to solve a non-convex program using parameterization for the interaction between pork and crop production and how to check decentralizing ability of the welfare optimum.
The second contribution is a systematic analysis of protein chains, which provides information on their environmental pressures. We use the environmental life cycle assessment (LCA) to compare the environmental pressures of a Dutch pork chain and a pea-based chain for Novel Protein Foods (NPFs). We conclude that NPFs are environmentally more friendly than pork in terms of some environmental pressure indicators.
The third contribution is the empirical application of Applied General Equilibrium (AGE) models to analyse the economic and environmental impacts of enhanced consumption of NPFs under different scenarios in the global context. Our model results show that an exogenous shift from animal protein foods to NPFs in the EU, which is represented by an increased expenditure share of NPFs in protein budget, will decrease the NH3 emissions. If the EU consumers are willing to pay to improve the air quality, the EU will reduce the pork production and increase pea production. If the "rich" consumers consume more NPFs through lifestyle change in meat consumption, the global emissions of NH3, N2O and CH4 will be reduced.
For more information please contact Xueqin Zhu

An environmental assessment of protein products: the impact on ecosystem services
In PROFETAS it is proposed that a shift from animal to plant foods in the Western diet is environmentally more sustainable than the present trend of protein consumption. To test the hypothesis, an instrument is required to assess the impact of protein food supply on environmental sustainability and compare different protein production systems.
Central to the assessment is the assumption that environmental sustainability refers to safeguarding future flows of ecosystem services and the ecosystem functions that generate these services cf. De Groot et al. (2002). However, quantification of the impact of food production on ecosystem functioning and the provision of nature's services is difficult. Instead the deployment of ecosystem processes (functions) to mitigate the effects of protein production activities is used as a measure of environmental sustainability. For example, P-outputs can be expressed as a function of P-retention in wetlands. Key functions for the assessment of protein production are those that are concerned with land use, N and P inputs and outputs, water use and energy use.
To be able to compare the different kind of impacts, the use of nature's services is converted and aggregated to units of area (ha) and time (yr). The assessments are an adaptation from the Ecological Footprint method of
Wackernagel and Rees (1996) , and their idea to convert the appropriation of natural resources of a population to productive area.
A tentative first estimate indicates a 6 times smaller impact on environmental sustainability of the pea-NPF chain compared to the pork production chain. The functions associated with crop production and P-emissions appear to require most area and time.
De Groot, R. S., Wilson, M. A., & Boumans, R. M. J. (2002) Ecological Economics, vol. 41, pp. 393-408.
Wackernagel, M. and Rees, W.E. (1996) Our ecological footprint. Reducing human impact on the earth.

For more information please contact
Martine Helms

Development of ecological indicators for sustainable food production
Both meat and plant protein production exert significant pressures on the environment. However, the pressures exerted by meat production exceed those of plant production many times, in both magnitude and extent of area affected. To determine the impact of food production it is important to know not only how many natural resources are used and how large environmental emissions are, but also where these processes occur and what ecosystems are affected. A detailed analysis such as LCA can shed a lot of insight on the magnitude question, but because of the scarcity of good international data this approach is less suited to deal with the spatial dimension. Environmental indicators can help us in situations where not all data is available to still make a good first approximation and are thus well suited to address the spatial dimension. For the PROFETAS project a case study was made of pea and pig production in the Netherlands and their global dimensions. Based on a set of 7 pressure indicators (area use, energy use, water use, nutrient use, eutrophication, acidification, and global warming) it was found that pig production exerts 4 to 200 times more pressure on the environment than pea production. For pig production most of the required natural resources are used outside the Netherlands (spread over 5 continents) with 30 to 40% of the burden placed on third world countries. About half of the contribution to eutrophication and global warming takes place abroad as well. Only for acidification is about 60% of the pressure located in The Netherlands. These results clearly highlight the importance of the spatial dimension in assessing the environmental consequences of food production and in analyzing differences between plant and animal production chains.
For more information please contact David Niemeijer

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