Abstract

In recent years, a growing interest from consumers to know the origins and contents of foods has put alternative choices, such as organic foods and dietary changes, on the agenda. Dietary choices are important to address, as many studies find that activities related to food production account for nearly 20–30% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Nonetheless, while GHG emissions are important, often other environmental impact categories are not considered in the assessment of the sustainability of different foods, diets and choices. This study aims to quantify the implications of dietary choices for Swedish food consumption on a broad range of environmental impact categories using life cycle assessment to provide insight into the impacts, and potential tradeoffs, associated with certain food products and dietary choices. Scenarios are used to assess the implications of diets with reduced meat, increased Swedish food consumption, increased organic foods, vegan and semi-vegetarian diets. The results indicate that tradeoffs could be possible with certain dietary choices. Increasing Swedish food production and consumption may lead to lower impacts for all impact categories by reducing imports, although limitations in growing season and availability of foods in Sweden allows only for minor increases. The results also indicate that large reductions of greenhouse gas emissions are possible by reducing meat consumption, i.e., by halving meat consumption and through vegan and vegetarian diets. Nonetheless, an increase in vegetable, legume and fruit products may lead to a potential increase in human and ecosystem toxicity. Diets based on nutritional guidelines, show reductions in all impact categories, as these guidelines call for an increase in vegetables and fruits and a reduction in meat consumption. An increase in organic foods showed no significant change in climate impact, although toxicity potential was reduced significantly. Increasing consumption of organic foods may also lead to a reduction in biodiversity damage potential, and if all food is produced organically, it risks increasing eutrophication and land use.

Highlights

  • In the developed world, behavioral choices, such as dietary choices, have a large influence on the environmental impacts of consumption [1]

  • This study aims to understand the implications of dietary choices for Swedish food consumption on a broad range of environmental impact categories

  • Previous studies of organic foods have typically reviewed the impact of conventional and organic food production methods on a comparative basis per food product [24,25,40]. While these provide interesting results to compare different food products, there is no consensus that organic production methods result in reductions of environmental impacts across all impact categories; or for total consumption and diets

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Summary

Introduction

Behavioral choices, such as dietary choices, have a large influence on the environmental impacts of consumption [1]. There has been a growing interest in knowing the origins and contents of the foods throughout the world. This has stemmed from the intensification of agricultural production, leading to questions about technologies, ingredients and safety of food, which has put pressure on conventional producers and manufacturers [8,9]. The concerns of consumers have created interest in alternative food products that promote sustainability, ethical questions and quality [8]

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