25 Jan Commentary on nutritional LCAs
Dr Bradley Ridoutt, Principal Research Scientist at Australia’s CSIRO and agricultural sustainability researcher, has recently published a commentary on the challenges and opportunities for combining nutritional information with the environmental impacts of food.
Recent years have seen increased efforts to compare the environmental impacts via life cycle analysis (LCA) of food to lead diets and production down more environmentally sustainable paths. Dr Ridoutt highlights that, as yet, no universal definition or best practice for nutritional LCA exist, leading to discussion (including by the FAO) on what the best approach might be.
In a previous article, we discussed the use of LCA in food sustainability research. The main limitations of the nutritional LCA approach were reiterated in the commentary article. A key question remains: what is the function of food? And thus, how should we compare foods?
As stated by Dr Ridoutt, “Foods contain a variety of nutrients, and a healthy diet requires a variety of foods.” Defining an appropriate way to compare the worth of different foods is challenging, which makes incorporating this with environmental impact (fraught with its own challenges of what factors to include), nearly impossible. Dr Ridoutt notes that the further inclusion of the health outcomes of food, often contested, adds to this challenge.
A key quote in the article is “…wrapping environmental LCA results together with nutritional epidemiological findings would appear unlikely to inform wise decision-making and will most likely only benefit individuals and organisations with a social or commercial agenda to promote.” The author concludes that only through separate reporting of the nutritional and environmental impacts of food can trade-offs be identified and assessed. Given that the relative importance of these two impact categories will vary between individual perspectives, this area seems likely to be highly discussed for the foreseeable future.