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MIND THE DATA GAPS: Nordic countries can be a perfect leader in making the global food system healthier and more sustainable, but their diets are contributing both to public health problems and a range of environmental impacts.
Are the Swedes up for the challenge to do something about it?
In a paper recently published in Sustainability, centre researcher Amanda Wood contributed to an assessment led by researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Science that analysed the environmental sustainability of the Swedish diet.
The global EAT-Lancet framework was launched in 2019 and provides the first scientific targets for a healthy diet from a sustainable food production system that operates within planetary boundaries for food.
To see how Swedish diets stack up to this framework, the authors first translated the global EAT-Lancet food system targets to a per-capita allocation of environmental impact from food. Then, they benchmarked the sustainability of Swedish diets against these boundaries.
The environmental impacts of the average Swedish diet are two to more than four times the sustainable limit for GHG emissions, cropland use and application of nitrogen and phosphorus, and nearly six-times the boundary for biodiversity loss.
Amanda Wood , co-author
The only environmental category not transgressed is freshwater use, where the impact of the diet is well below the limit.
Wood explains: “Because specific foods were linked to the different environmental impacts, we can see that animal products contribute relatively high impacts compared to the rest of the diet when it comes to GHG emissions, cropland use and nitrogen application. We also see that the environmental impact of a food can vary greatly depending on where it was produced, particularly for biodiversity loss.”
The authors explain that the advantage of global indicators is that they capture the overall impact of diets from a “global allowance” perspective. However, they also point out that global indicators sometimes insufficiently capture sustainability in a local context.
By comparing the variables described in the EAT-Lancet with the national Swedish Environmental Objectives (SEOs), the authors determine that certain aspects, such as eutrophication, require more fine-resolution and site-dependent indicators in order for local impacts to be captured accurately.
The authors conclude that for a more comprehensive sustainability assessment of diets, additional aspects such as chemical pollution and acidification, as well as better inventory data on pesticide use and food imports, would need to be considered.
To calculate the impacts caused by the average Swedish diet, the authors retrieve data on average per capita food supply from the Swedish Board of Agriculture. They then assess the environmental impacts per kg or liter of food and multiply the amounts of food by the environmental impacts. The environmental impacts from the per capita average diet are then benchmarked against the downscaled EAT-Lancet boundaries for each environmental variable.
The relationship between SEOs, designed for monitoring the local environmental status in Sweden, and global EAT-Lancet variables, are then analyzed to identify local environmental concerns not captured by the latter. Based on this, the authors conclude that additional national indicators can be used as a basis for capturing more of the environmental impacts at the local context.
Moberg, E., Potter, H.K., Wood, A., Hansson, P-A., Röös, E. 2020. Benchmarking the Swedish Diet Relative to Global and National Environmental Targets—Identification of Indicator Limitations and Data Gaps. Sustainability 2020, 12(4), 1407; https://doi.org/10.3390/su12041407
For more information about the publication, please contact co-author Amanda Wood:
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