Knowledge for better food systems

Sustainable nutrition between the poles of health and environment. Potentials of altered diets and avoidable food losses

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This article provides a synopsis of the main research findings from the book “Environmental protection with knife and fork – the ecological rucksack of nutrition in Germany”, various peer-reviewed publications and as well as the underlying dissertation of the author. The first part of the article presents an overview of current challenges in the transdisciplinary field of nutrition, environment and public health. After a brief presentation of the methods, in the results section life cycle assessment results are presented on product and consumption levels and possible courses of action are derived – with a special focus on different diets and reduced food losses.

The article shows that in 2006 the average German diet induced a land demand of 2365 m² per person and year. Around a third of this (707 m²) was covered abroad, primarily for the production of the following products: feed (soybean meal, palm cake), vegetable oils (soybean and palm oil), fruits, cocoa, coffee, vegetables and wine. On the other hand, the German agri-food sector exports virtual land, in the form of commodities, equivalent to 262 m² - with a remaining land use deficit of 445 m² per person and year. In order to at least offset Germany’s land use deficit, the land required annually for nutrition would have to be no more than 1848 m² per person. Even if everyone followed the official D-A-CH dietary recommendations, which are valid in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, this would fall just short of the target. However, if the D-A-CH recommendations were applied in combination with a reduction in avoidable food wastage, this target could be achieved. A shift to an ovo-lacto-vegetarian or vegan diet would even lead to a positive virtual land balance. Regardless of dietary habits a reduction in avoidable food waste could help achieve a land saving of around 10%.


Meier, T. (2015): Sustainable nutrition between the poles of health and environment. Potentials of altered diets and avoidable food losses. In: Ernährungs Umschau international, 02/15: 22-33. DOI:10.4455/eu.2015.005

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Europe is the world's second-smallest continent by surface area, covering just over 10 million square kilometres or 6.8% of the global land area, but it is the third-most populous continent after Asia and Africa, with a population of around 740 million people or about 11% of the world's population. Its climate is heavily affected by warm Atlantic currents that temper winters and summers on much of the continent. In the European Union, farmers represent only 4.7% of the working population, yet manage nearly half of its land area.

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