The JRC is co-chairing a team of international scientific experts that recently produced the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) guidelines for assessing nutrient flows and their environmental impacts in livestock supply chains.
The product of two years' work by the Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance (LEAP) Partnership, these are the first ever guidelines to propose a thorough methodology for quantifying the environmental impact of livestock supply chains with respect to nutrient emissions, based on a life-cycle approach.
They aim to enhance understanding of nutrient use efficiency and associated environmental impacts and to help improve the environmental performance of livestock systems.
Making sustainable consumer choices
It is difficult to evaluate which products are ‘better’ or ‘worse’ for the environment, as each product is the result of a long chain of individual processes, each of which requires inputs, produce waste and create environmental emissions.
To make informed choices, consumers, farmers, and other livestock stakeholders need reliable information about the environmental performance and the sustainability of livestock supply chains.
For the results of environmental assessments to be meaningful, they should be based on a transparent, scientific sound, and simple methodology (sufficiently simple that it can also be applied to most products).
Previous LEAP reports that give guidelines for evaluating livestock systems focus on greenhouse gas emissions, ignoring many other environmental impacts. Sound decisions cannot be taken based on one environmental aspect alone. Other aspects such as biodiversity, carbon stock changes and impacts from nutrient losses should also be considered to make intelligent and informed choices and have also been elaborated or are in preparation.
Nutrient flows in the environment
In recent decades, nutrients have been increasingly used in livestock production systems due to the increased demand for livestock production. The consequent nutrient losses into the environment have contributed to environmental burdens such as climate change, air and water pollution, degradation of soil quality, loss of biodiversity and human health issues.
There is, therefore, a strong interest in measuring nutrient flows to improve the environmental performance of the livestock sector.
This report closes the gap in existing assessment methods by showing how to assess nutrient flows and their associated environmental impacts.
The guidelines aim to develop an agreed, harmonised, scientific yet practical approach to assessing nutrient flows and impact assessment for global livestock supply chains and to identify the main areas of ambiguity or differing views concerning the methodological framework.
The report contains methodologies for life cycle inventories of relevant nutrient flows, impact assessment for marine and freshwater eutrophication and aquatic and terrestrial acidification, and for quantifying and interpreting additional indicators for assessing nutrient use efficiency: nitrogen and phosphorus footprints, gross nutrient surplus and a newly developed Circularity Indicator.
This document is the first version of a living document that will be updated and improved as the sector evolves and more stakeholders become involved in LEAP, and as new methodological frameworks and data become available.
- Nutrient Flows and associated environmental impacts in livestock supply chains. Guidelines for assessment
- Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance (LEAP) Partnership
- Publication date
- 19 October 2018