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26 February 2014  

Environmental footprinting gains momentum in food and drinks industry

In recent years, the concept of environmental footprinting has increasingly attracted attention among policymakers and become a marketing point for the food and drinks industry. Consequently, a wide range of indicators have emerged to increase transparency for consumers about the environmental impact of food and drink products. The ecological footprint is commonly subdivided into: the carbon footprint, which refers to the carbon emissions a product, event or individual generates; and the water footprint, which refers to the amount of water that is needed for producing a good or service.

With regard to the food sector, several sector specific concepts have emerged. One example of this is ‘food miles’, which describe the distance a food product traveled from harvest to the supermarket. Additional factors are also being added. To calculate the environmental footprint of a food product more holistically, it is important to also take into account the land, water, and energy that are needed to grow, produce and supply food. This also entails analysing the farming method, use of pesticides and fertilizers, packaging materials, animal feed, as well as the carbon footprint of refrigeration, transport and cooking.

According to the European Commission, the European food and drink sector constitutes about 23 percent of global resource use, 18 percent of GHG emissions and 31 percent of acidifying emissions. The European Environment Agency (EEA) states that the biggest environmental impact of the agricultural sector occurs during food chain lifecycle, particularly in the beef and dairy sector. Food processing on the other hand is said to have comparatively very little environmental impact.

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