Title: The nitrogen footprint of food products in the European Union
Citation: JOURNAL OF AGRICULTURAL SCIENCE vol. 152 no. Supplement 1 p. S20-S33
Publication Year: 2014
JRC N°: JRC80923
ISSN: 0021-8596
URI: http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=9446975&fileId=S0021859613000786
DOI: 10.1017/S0021859613000786
Type: Articles in periodicals and books
Abstract: Nitrogen is an essential element for plants and animals. Due to large inputs of mineral fertilizer crop yields and livestock production in Europe have strongly increased over the last 100 years, but as a consequence losses of reactive nitrogen to air, soil and water have intensified as well. We used two different models (CAPRI and MITERRA) to quantify the nitrogen flows in agriculture in the EU27, at country-level and for EU agriculture as a whole, differentiated into 12 main food categories. Here we show that the nitrogen footprint (NFP), being the total nitrogen losses to the environment per unit of product strongly varies between different food categories, with substantially higher values for livestock products and the highest values for beef (about 500 g N per kg of beef), as compared to vegetable products. Lowest NFP of about 2 g N per kg of product were calculated for sugar beet, fruits and vegetables, and potatoes. Amongst the losses of reactive nitrogen, nitrogen leaching and run-off and ammonia volatilisation dominated, with 83% and 88% due to consumption of livestock products. We also calculated the nitrogen investment factors (NIF), being the required quantity of new reactive nitrogen to produce one unit of nitrogen in the product, which varied between 1.2 kg for the consumption of pulses to 15-20 kg N (kg N in product)-1 for beef.
JRC Directorate:Sustainable Resources

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