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HomeScienceOutlining Scenarios that Lead to a Circular Food System: A Study

Outlining Scenarios that Lead to a Circular Food System: A Study


Script composition and illustration. The colors of the arrows and symbols at the top left represent the different scenarios in the table. Arrows represent biomass uses that differ between scenarios. In the case of the gray arrows, the assumptions about biomass utilization are the same in all scenarios. credit: nature foods (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s43016-023-00734-9

The European Union wants to move to a circular food system, where waste is minimized, waste products are recycled and our impact on the planet is reduced. But what will we eat on a circular diet? What kinds of animals will we keep? What crops will we plant?

An international group of researchers led by Hannah van Zanten (Wageningen University & Research) has identified opportunities for the European Union and the United Kingdom (EU27+UK) in four scenarios, starting with the current system and culminating in a fully circular food system. Their findings have been published in nature foods On the 17th of April.

The hard numbers reveal that there are huge gains to be made if we switch to a circular diet, and the long-running study has drawn some startling conclusions. For example, the researchers show that up to 71% less farmland would be needed in a fully circular farming system. It is also possible to reduce per capita greenhouse gases by 29%, even while still producing enough food for a healthy diet for all.

Circular diets require an approach

“The numbers reveal that the circular diet has enormous potential benefits for both our health and the health of the planet,” says Hannah van Zanten.

“There are many uncertainties affecting the food system, such as the war in Ukraine. There will only be more of these uncertainties in the future, due in part to climate change and the ever-expanding global population. So we need to think very carefully about how Redesigning our food system. Choices that may lead to trade-offs need to be made, such as increasing the global food supply in exchange for more room for biodiversity. That’s why we developed four scenarios to predict the impact of these choices and uncover interdependencies within the food system.”

Four scenarios: from production to full popularization

Four scenarios were developed: a basic scenario (the current production-driven system) and three scenarios based on circular principles.

In the first of the three circular scenarios (CirAgri), circular principles are applied to production systems as we continue our current food consumption pattern. In the second scenario (CirHealth), the current consumption pattern shifts to a healthy eating pattern (based on the idea that overconsumption is essentially a form of waste). Both scenarios reduce the amount of agricultural land needed by more than two-thirds and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 22% (if we continue our current consumption pattern) and by 29% if we switch to a healthy diet.

In the final scenario (CirPop+), farmland in Europe is used to produce as much healthy food as possible. In this scenario, we could feed an additional 767 million people (+149%) outside Europe and thus contribute to alleviating the global food crisis. However, this would require all of Europe’s farmland to be used for this. Moreover, total greenhouse emissions increase by 55% in this scenario.

What is required to move?

The following conclusions apply to the transition to a circular diet in
EU 27 + UK:

  • Consumption patterns should shift to healthy diets. The consumption of animal products should decrease by about 50%.
  • Livestock will play an important role in the transition, but their numbers will have to be significantly reduced. Milk and fish will remain relatively important, while beef and pork will almost disappear.
  • Fewer grains and fewer fodder crops will be grown, but relatively larger amounts of other crops such as soybeans will need to be produced.
  • The current crop rotation system reduces the potential of the circular system. Avoiding competition for forage altogether will increase the amount of farmland required because forage crops can no longer be used in rotation. One solution may be to increase the proportion of food crops at alternating intervals, but this requires the deployment of new agro-ecological systems and crop diversification. Organic and mineral fertilizers will still be needed in circular food systems. The percentage of compost can be increased, for example, through the optimal use of human manure.
  • The land needed for production, especially grassland, is reduced. This could provide opportunities to improve biodiversity in some areas. The transition will require planning and a clear long-term vision.

“It’s important to realize that the system as a whole is interdependent: from production to processing to consumption,” says van Zanten. “Currently, no one feels ownership of the entire food system. A decision about one production system or a chain within the food system can have consequences for the rest system. Our model is the first to investigate the circularity of the entire food system in detail. It offers opportunities for system redesign European diet in a way that respects the health of both people and the planet.”

more information:
HHE van Zanten et al, Circularity in Europe enhances the sustainability of the global food system, nature foods (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s43016-023-00734-9

Provided by Wageningen University

the quote: Study Outlines Scenarios Leading to a Circular Diet (2023, April 18) Retrieved April 18, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-04-outlines-scenarios-circular-food.html

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