D1 - Technical reports: non-confidential
McLaren, S., Berardy, A., Henderson, A., Holden, N., Huppertz, T., Jolliet, O., Renouf, M., Rugani, B., Saarinen, M., Van der Pols, J., Vazquez-Rowe, I., Anton Vallejo, A., Bianchi, M., Chaudhary, A., Chen, C., Cooreman-Algoed, M., Dong, H., Grant, T., Green, A., Hallström, E., Minh Hoang, H., Leip, A., Lynch, J., McAuliffe, G., Ridoutt, B., Saget, S., Scherer, L., Tuomisto, H., Tyedmers, P. and Van Zanten, H. 2021. Integration of environment and nutrition in life cycle assessment of food items: opportunities and challenges. Rome, Italy Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations - FAO. https://doi.org/10.4060/cb8054en
|Authors||McLaren, S., Berardy, A., Henderson, A., Holden, N., Huppertz, T., Jolliet, O., Renouf, M., Rugani, B., Saarinen, M., Van der Pols, J., Vazquez-Rowe, I., Anton Vallejo, A., Bianchi, M., Chaudhary, A., Chen, C., Cooreman-Algoed, M., Dong, H., Grant, T., Green, A., Hallström, E., Minh Hoang, H., Leip, A., Lynch, J., McAuliffe, G., Ridoutt, B., Saget, S., Scherer, L., Tuomisto, H., Tyedmers, P. and Van Zanten, H.|
|Type||D1 - Technical reports: non-confidential|
Food systems have become increasingly efficient and technologically advanced in providing food products to meet the needs of the world’s growing population. However, providing healthy diets within environmental limits remains a key sustainability issue as food systems continue to over use
Many stakeholders are interested in the question of how to assess the environmental impacts of healthy diets, and in exploring solutions for minimizing trade-offs between nourishing populations and safeguarding the environment. Life cycle assessment (LCA) studies have an important role in
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) initiated a project to identify opportunities for further developing environmental and nutritional LCA methodology and building consensus about best practice, and to propose future research needs. The project involved 30
A key issue concerns the intended purpose of an LCA study. This requires some consideration of the reason for the study, the intended application and the audience. Foods may be consumed for a variety of reasons including for their nutritional value, for enjoyment, and/or as a means of taking part in – or contributing to – socio-cultural functions. This report defines a nutritional LCA (nLCA) study as an LCA study where the provision of nutrient(s) is considered as either the main function or one of the main functions of a food item. nLCA studies should be undertaken by multidisciplinary teams involving nutritional and health scientists as well as environmental scientists.
At the outset, the goal and scope of an nLCA study should be carefully defined following the recommendations in this report, including:
• Undertake an nLCA when nutrients are and/or nutrition is relevant to the decision-maker and decision context (Chapter 3).
• Clearly identify the target audience and the target population for a study because different populations have different nutritional requirements, and this may influence the assessment of nutritional value (Chapter 5).
• Report the quantities of as many essential nutrients as possible (Chapters 5 and 6).
• Aim to provide information on the nutritional quality and/or health impacts in addition to nutrient quantities (Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Section 7.5.4).
• The system boundaries should include all stages of the product life cycle that affect nutritional value. The final processing, storage and/or preparation of food items may have a notable effect on their nutritional value, and this should be taken into consideration (including the potential
• Choose a modelling perspective (typically attributional or consequential) based on the relevance to the decision situation (Chapter 4).
The functional unit in an nLCA study can be defined in many ways (Chapter 6). These include: a quantity of one or more nutrients, a nutrient density value (calculated using a nutrient index), a quality-corrected quantity of nutrient(s), or another nutritional property (such as energy content). Alternatively, the functional unit could be a serving size. In all cases it should be relevant to the target population and its nutritional requirements. If possible, nutrients not included in the functional unit should be listed and discussed in the LCA report. Figure 5 and Figure 6 provide decision trees for guiding the choice of a functional unit in an nLCA study.
When assessing nutrition, consideration should be given to: accounting for nutritional value as well as nutrient quantities (for example, using nutrient indices), separate treatment of nutrients to encourage (e.g. calcium) and of nutrients to limit (e.g. sodium), and assessment of non-nutrients that contribute to nutrition (e.g. dietary fibre) (Chapter 5, Chapter 6).
In the impact assessment, research on the potential human health impacts of food items is at an early stage (Section 7.5.4). This report recommends using a nutrition impact category to account for the benefits or impacts of nutrition on human health (Section 8.1.1). Other particularly relevant
Some additional outstanding issues were identified in the project that require further attention (Chapter 8):
• definition of a minimum number of nutrients to be considered in an nLCA study, and whether this should be based on food groups (Chapter 6);
• treatment of nutrients to limit alongside, or separately from, encouraged nutrients (Chapter 6);
• use of nutrient indices to assess nutrition (Chapter 6);
• nutrition impact category methodology (Section 7.5.4), and further development of impact assessment methods for other impact categories (Chapter 7);
• how to represent nutritional changes that could occur during food storage, distribution and preparation if the system boundary for an nLCA study is set at a life cycle stage prior to consumption (Chapter 4);
• guidelines for use of an nLCA in different applications, including use of attributional and consequential modelling perspectives (Chapter 4);
• representation of data uncertainty and variability in nLCA studies (Chapter 4); and
•representative data for different regions (particularly developing countries) for the processing, distribution, retail, and consumption life cycle stages, and for food loss and waste (Chapter 4).
Finally, there is a need to extend nLCA methodology for the assessment of meals and diets, to consider further how to account for the multi-functionality of food in a sustainability framework, and to set nLCA studies within the context of environmental limits.
In summary, the constructive consensus-building process described in this report led to the identification of key outstanding issues and recommendations for the environmental and nutritional LCA of food items. The results provide a robust basis for future research to improve nLCA methodology
|Keywords||Life cycle assessment; Carbon footprint; Nutrition; Diet; Health|
|Year of Publication||2021|
|Publisher||Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations - FAO|
|Place of publication||Rome, Italy|
|Digital Object Identifier (DOI)||https://doi.org/10.4060/cb8054en|
|Web address (URL)||https://www.fao.org/documents/card/en/c/cb8054en/|
|Funder||Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council|
|Open access||Published as ‘gold’ (paid) open access|
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