Nitrogen on the table: the influence of food choices on nitrogen emissions and the European environment

12-01-2016 | Publication

Current European diets are characterised by a high intake of meat, dairy products and eggs, leading to an intake of saturated fat and red meat that exceeds health recommendations. Livestock production in the EU is the driver of around 80% of agricultural nitrogen emissions. Halving the current consumption of meat and dairy in the EU would achieve major health benefits as well as reductions of around 40% in agricultural nitrogen emissions and 25% to 40% in greenhouse gas emissions.

Food consumption better aligned with dietary recommendations

Reducing the intake of meat and dairy would lead to food consumption patterns that are better aligned with dietary recommendations regarding the intake of saturated fats and red meat; especially when this reduction is in the order of 50%.

Large reduction in nitrogen losses and greenhouse gas emissions

Nitrogen losses from agricultural, in various forms (e.g. ammonia, nitrate and nitrous oxide) would be largely reduced. Under all the assessed alternative diets and land-use scenarios, the EU would become a net exporter of cereals. A 50% reduction in meat and dairy consumption would lead to a 75% reduction in the import and use of soya meal.

These diet-led changes in food production patterns would have a large economic impact on livestock farmers and associated supply-chain actors, such as the feed industry and meat-processing sector.