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The new official Danish dietary guidelines take climate into account

As a consumer, you can make a huge difference for the climate through your dietary choices. It is now possible to find inspiration for this in the new official Danish dietary guidelines, which for the first time suggest how to reduce the carbon footprint of the diet. Behind the advice is knowledge from the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University about the carbon footprint of each food item.

2021.01.20 | Lotte Rystedt

A more plant-based diet is healthy for both the body and the climate. Illustration: Danish Veterinary and Food Administration

A healthier diet can go hand in hand with taking better care of the climate. In the new official dietary guidelines recently published by the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, you can find relevant advice about this. Among other things, the focus is on increasing the consumption of legumes and vegetables and reducing the proportion of meat in the diet. A more plant-based diet is healthy for both the body and the climate.

"Exclusion of animal-based products from the diets has been found to have a major impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the diet by up to 55%. However, also minor adjustments of the diet can make a great difference", says Lisbeth Mogensen, Associate Professor at Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University.

Knowledge about the carbon footprint of food items is an important input to the work behind the new dietary recommendations. Researchers from the Department of Agroecology have advised the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries of Denmark about these carbon footprints of different food items.

The carbon footprint shows the impact of a food product (for example, a litre of milk) on global warming, throughout the product's entire life cycle, from the food production at the farm until it is ready in the supermarket.

Already in 2009, the Department of Agroecology made a first list of the food's carbon footprint for the ministry. That was in connection with the preparation of the ministry's Climate Cookbook, where the climate pyramid was also created. The list of the food's carbon footprints have been updated later in 2016.

The dietary patterns have great potential for mitigation of the climate impact

There is an increasing demand for reducing the total climate impact of our diets as it has been estimated that today’s food supply is responsible for 20-25% of the total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emission per person in the Western countries. And even though the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University, among others, carries out a lot of research to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the primary production of foods - in the stables and the fields - and thereby reducing the carbon footprint per kg of food, this effort cannot stand alone.

"The composition of the diet is one of the greatest potentials for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the food system. So, help from the consumers is needed to reduce the climate impact through their dietary choices. And the good news is that you as a consumer can make a huge difference and at the same time reduce the climate impact  if you follow the new dietary guidelines, "says Lisbeth Mogensen.

More research on sustainable dietary recommendations on the way

In relation to this work about the new dietary guidelines, Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University, in collaboration with DTU Food, will participate in a project for the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, where the department will contribute to an update of the list of carbon footprint for the food products used in the dietary recommendations.

 "It is a very important first step to incorporate the climate impact into the dietary guidelines. The next step should be that we also include other environmental considerations, for example pesticide use and the impact on biodiversity," says Senior Researcher Marie Trydeman Knudsen, Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University and head of the SustainOrganic project. This project focuses on sustainable diets, and examines the climate profile of the food products along with the other environmental impacts.

The researchers also emphasise that, alongside a greener diet, it is important to limit food waste to reduce the climate impact of our food consumption.

More information
Collaborators

The article mentions two current projects:

Supplementary project for work on the background for climate-friendly and sustainable dietary advice 2020 and 2021, which is headed by the DTU Food Institute, where Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University is a partner.

The SustainOrganic project, Department of Agroecology is project manager, and Hørkram Foodservice, Fazer Food Services and Aarstiderne A/S are project partners. Hørkram is responsible for ' List of major food items and types ' and ' Procurement patterns identified '. Fazer and Aarstiderne contribute with data.

Funding

Department of Agroecology is a project participant in the DTU Food Institute’s "Supplementary project for work on the background for climate-friendly and sustainable dietary advice 2020 and 2021" from the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration.     

‘SustainOrganic’ is a GUDP project under Organic RDD4

Department of Agroecology conducted science-based policy advice on the food's carbon footprint for the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries in 2009 and 2016. 

Read more

Read more about the official dietary guidelines her 

See also DR’s article ”Danmark har fået klimavenlige kostråd”, where Senior Researcher Marie Trydeman Knudsen from Department of Agroecology, Aarhus University, and a member of The Danish Council on Climate Change talk about the potential of changing our diet to reduce the climate impact. 

Contact

Associate professor Lisbeth Mogensen, Lisbeth.Mogensen@agro.au.dk

Senior researcher Marie Trydeman Knudsen, MarieT.Knudsen@agro.au.dk 



DCA, Agro