Freshwater ecotoxicity impacts from pesticide use in animal and vegetable foods produced in Sweden
Journal article, 2017
Chemical pesticides are widely used in modern agriculture but their potential negative impacts are seldom considered in environmental assessments of food products. This study aims to assess and compare the potential freshwater ecotoxicity impacts due to pesticide use in the primary production of six food products: chicken fillet, minced pork, minced beef, milk, pea soup, and wheat bread. The assessment is based on a detailed and site-specific inventory of pesticide use in the primary production of the food products, all of which are produced in Sweden. Soybeans, used to produce the animal-based food products, are grown in Brazil. Pesticide emissions to air and surface water were calculated using PestLCI v. 2.0.5. Ecotoxicity impacts were assessed using USEtox v. 2.01, and expressed in relation to five functional units. The results show that the animal-based food products have considerably larger impact potentials than the plant-based food products. In relation to kg pea soup, impact potentials of bread, milk, minced beef, chicken fillet and minced pork are ca. 2, 3, 50, 140 and 170 times larger, respectively. All mass-based functional units yield the same ranking. Notably, chicken fillet and minced pork have larger impacts than minced beef and milk, regardless of functional unit, due to extensive use of pesticides, some with high toxicity, in soybean production. This result stands in sharp contrast to typical carbon footprint and land use results which attribute larger impacts to beef than to chicken and pork. Measures for reducing impacts are discussed. In particular, we show that by substituting soybeans with locally sourced feed crops, the impact potentials of minced pork and chicken fillet are reduced by ca. 70 and 90%, respectively. Brazilian soybean production is heavily reliant on pesticides. We propose that weak legislation, in combination with tropical climate and agronomic practices, explains this situation.