A new report from the Expert Panel on Nitrogen and Food, of the Task Force on Reactive Nitrogen, quantifies for the first time how much our food choices affect pollutant nitrogen emissions, climate change and land-use across Europe.
The European Nitrogen Assessment (ENA) identified agriculture as a major source of nitrogen losses. Despite the relatively high nitrogen efficiency of agriculture in the European Union, the current total loss of reactive nitrogen from European Union (EU) agriculture amounts to an estimated 6.5 - 8 million tonnes per year, representing around 80 % of reactive nitrogen emissions from all sources to the EU environment. These nitrogen losses mainly are in the form of ammonia to the air, of nitrate to ground and surface waters and of nitrous oxide (a powerful greenhouse gas).
The results show that livestock production chains have a high share in nitrogen losses. Around 79-88% of the total emissions related to EU agriculture of ammonia, nitrate and of nitrous oxide are related to livestock production. In these values for livestock production the emissions related to feed production (as cereals and fodder crops) are included.
There are large differences between food commodities in terms of nitrogen losses per unit of protein produced. Plant-based foods, such as cereals, have relatively low losses while livestock products have much higher losses. Nitrogen losses per unit of food protein from beef are more than 25 times those from cereals. For pig and poultry meat, eggs and dairy, the losses are 3.5 to 8 times those from cereals. Corresponding values for nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) are low for meat and dairy products (5-30%) as compared with plant-based commodities (45-75%).
Friday 25 April, 2014/ CLRTAP-TFRN.