187973 Reducing our Food Carbon Footprint: Research and Consumer Choices

Monday, October 27, 2008: 4:50 PM

Gail Feenstra, EdD, RD , University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, Davis, CA
It is increasingly recognized that the food system consumes a significant portion of energy in the United States and that the greenhouse gases (GHGs) it produces create a sizeable “carbon footprint.” Individual foods, however, vary tremendously in how they are produced, processed, packaged, and transported, and therefore, vary in their carbon footprint. Changes in consumer food choices hold the potential to make a substantial impact on the overall energy audit and GHG emissions of our food system. This presentation describes findings from an international food, energy and carbon footprint symposium convened by the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis in October, 2007. The symposium participants discussed using a life cycle assessment (LCA) framework to identify factors affecting fossil fuel use and GHG emissions throughout the food system, from the farm to the consumer. Five critical issue areas or trade-offs will be described such as between production systems (organic or conventional) and transportation (“food miles”) for example. These trade-offs are all based on uncertainties in comparing energy use and GHG emissions across multiple sectors of the food system, and therefore fundamentally require LCA to be adequately addressed. The overall research initiative uses these findings to stimulate research and outreach on strategic foods, food groups or whole diets and then construct general guidelines where feasible, and explore opportunities for implementation within the food service sector and among consumers. One such tool is a decision tree to help consumers in making more sustainable food choices.

Learning Objectives:
1. Participants will be able to discuss how 3 critical trade-offs that impact the overall carbon footprint of particular foods and how consumers can use this information to make sustainable food choices. 2. Participants will be able to identify 3 guidelines or “rules of thumb” for reducing consumers’ food carbon footprint.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the food systems analyst at the UC Davis Ag Sustainability Institute, responsible for this area of study.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.