Invited review: Resource inputs and land, water and carbon footprints from the production of edible protein of animal origin

Flachowsky, Gerhard GND; Meyer, Ulrich GND; Südekum, K.-H.

The objective of this review is to analyze crucial factors in the output from the production of proteins in food of animal origin, such as milk, meat and eggs. We then consider inputs such as land, water, fuel, minerals and feed, as well as characterize emissions. Finally, we estimate footprints for land (land footprint, LF), water (water footprint, WF) and greenhouse gas emissions (i.e., carbon footprint, CF) during the production process. The wide range of different land and water inputs per unit feed between various studies largely influences the results. Further influencing factors are species and categories of animals that produce edible protein, their yields and the feeding of animals. Coproducts with no or low humanly edible fractions and grassland as feed contribute to a lower need for arable land and lower LF, WF and CF. The most efficient land use or the lowest LF per kilogram of edible protein was estimated for higher milk and egg yields; the highest LF values were calculated for beef, followed by pork. The lowest WF and CF were calculated for edible protein of chicken meat and eggs. Edible protein from ruminants is mostly characterized by a higher CF because of the high greenhouse gas potential of methane produced in the rumen. A key prerequisite for further progress in this field is the harmonization of data collection and calculation methods. Alternatives to partial or complete replacement of protein of terrestrial animals, such as marine animals, insects, cell cultures, single-cell proteins or simulated animal products from plants, as well as changing eating patterns and reducing food losses are mentioned as further potential ways for more efficient feed production. For all those dealing with plant or animal breeding and cultivation and all those who are working along the whole food production chain, it is a major challenge to enhance the production of more food for more people with, at the same time, less, limited resources and lower emissions.

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Flachowsky, Gerhard / Meyer, Ulrich / Südekum, K.-H.: Invited review: Resource inputs and land, water and carbon footprints from the production of edible protein of animal origin. 2018.

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