Environmentally sustainable human consumption: the role of animal production

PhD project by Heleen van Kernebeek. The hypothesis is: Human consumption patterns with the lowest environmental impact have a low share of animal-source food, but not zero

Current research in the field of human diets and environmental impact assessment mainly focuses on the role of animals as producer of food, while non-food functions of animals, such as providing fertiliser, bio-energy or leather, are not considered. These studies share the general conclusion that a plant-based diet has a lower impact than an animal-based diet. We want to quantify the importance of animals in a sustainable diet accounting for their various functions for mankind, including production of food, providing fertiliser, bio-energy and leather. If we did not produce animal protein, we would instead need plant- or synthetic sources, to replace these non-food products. Moreover, animals and their manure play a complex role in energy production. This research, therefore, will shed new light on the role of animal production in our food- and non-food consumption pattern by exploring the role of animal production in a sustainable human consumption pattern.

The aim of the project is to quantify the environmental impact of human diets varying in the amount of animal-source food. We will model the environmental consequences of a change in production of animal-source food while accounting for the diverse functions of animals (e.g. providing fertiliser, bio-energy, leather, or possibilities to value marginal land). Such an analysis will give us insight into environmental trade-offs of increasing levels of consumption of animal-source food.