Diet and environmental impact : climate, water footprints, and biodiversity


edito diet and environmental impact-GFVN

“What you eat is what you get”

If you want to do something for mitigating climate change, furthering a more efficient water use and strengthening biodiversity, eat healthier by consuming more fruits and vegetables! Whether this can be generalized beyond the specific country context of the three studies presented in this newsletter remains to be reflected. But the essence of these studies points into a promising and comprehensible direction.

A basic question remains then, however: If these studies represent reality, what prevents mankind and food systems from evolving naturally in this promising direction? Why is such scientific evidence not the leverage needed for transformation? There is no simple answer to these questions, for food systems are complex. As impact-driven plant-scientist and president of a foundation committed to sustainability-motivated innovation for food systems transformation, I increasingly miss in the transformation debate one aspect which would clearly incentivize the transformation needed: Studying and strengthening the value creation of the envisaged change of the agri-food value chain. Horticulture must keep its high value creation potential and entrepreneurial competitive spirit, which is a privilege of horticulture and provides perspective to the agri-food sector under pressure. But let’s first have a look at the three mentioned, inspiring studies:

  • The study presented by Ellen Trolle & Anne Dahl Lassen estimates carbon footprint reduction with a transition from the current Danish diet to the new “Official Dietary Guidelines – good for health and climate”, using two different databases based on life cycle assessment. This transition would reduce the carbon footprint of 31% to 43% depending on the database used.

  • The article of Ignazio Gallo assesses the effectiveness of a personalized food recommendation system that suggests recipes with lower water footprints ingredients to consumers, considering their food preferences. The system proposed understands user’s behaviour and suggests recipes with lower water footprints and helps consumers to reduce their water footprint while having a healthier diet.

  • In their article, Henry Ferguson-Gow and Patricia Eustahio Colombo examine, in order to meet the increased need for vegetables, two scenarios where land used for meat production is converted to horticultural production and natural land covers. Results show that there is potential gain for biodiversity with an increasing trend in the number of species gaining in average habitable area, and also, with mitigating negative climate change impacts on biodiversity by land use changes associated with dietary shifts from less meat to more vegetables.

Enjoy reading, be aware of the impact of your dietary choices and keep considering the leveraging importance of value creation.

Lukas Bertschinger Chair of the Müller-Thurgau Foundation
Innovation support for sustainability motivated transformation of plant-based food-systems including horticulture, Wädenswil, Switzerland
About the author

Lukas Bertschinger presides the Board of the Müller-Thurgau Foundation, an institution providing applied R&D support for easing the transformation of plant-based food systems including horticulture. The foundation is named in memory of the world famous botanist, plant breeder, horticulturist, food technologist and microbiologist, Professor Hermann Müller-Thurgau, and cares for his interdisciplinary, science-based and impact-oriented transformational spirit by supporting R&D projects. Bertschinger, an agronomist, phytopathologist and horticulturist, careered in global and national applied research institutions as scientist and research manager, runs now his company klb-innovation providing expertise for agri-food value chain transformation and teaches at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH Zürich a Master course in horticultural science. As co-founder of several public private partnerships and spin-offs, he wants to foster co-creative value creation by better joining forces of the innovation ecosystem among the many actors of the value chains concerned.

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