Consumer strategies towards a more sustainable food system: Insights from Switzerland

Elsevier, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 115, 1 April 2022
Frehner A., De Boer I.J.M., Muller A., Van Zanten H.H.E., Schader C.

Background: To improve the sustainability performance of food systems, both consumption- A nd production-side changes are needed. Objectives: To this end, we assessed multiple sustainability impacts of 6 consumer strategies together with production-side aspects such as organic and circularity principles for Switzerland. Methods: Two strategies encompassed dietary changes: Following a pescetarian diet and adhering to the national dietary guidelines. Two strategies employed alternative farming systems: Increasing the share of organic production and, in addition, applying the circularity principle of avoiding feed-food competition by limiting livestock feed to low-opportunity-cost biomass. A fifth strategy reduced food waste. The sixth strategy increased the share of domestic produce. For all strategies, we assessed greenhouse gas emissions, land use, nitrogen surplus, social risks, diet quality, and diet costs. Results: The strategies revealed trade-offs between impact categories, unless combined in a synergistic way. Whereas dietary changes towards more plant-based diets reduced environmental impacts (≤51%) and increased diet quality (≤57%), they increased social risks due to increased sourcing from contexts with potentially bad labor conditions (≤19%). Further, when the share of organic produce was increased, land use and dietary costs were increased (≤33% and ≤42%, respectively). The effect on land use could, however, be reversed when circularity principles were introduced in addition to the organic production standard, resulting in reductions for all environmental indicators (≤75%). Reducing food waste and increasing the share of domestic produce led to better sustainability performance as well, but at lower orders of magnitude. Conclusions: Combining all proposed strategies could lead to substantial favorable changes on all impact categories assessed, but would require a thorough transformation of the current food system. However, the sum of individual consumers each following only 1 of the strategies proposed would make an important contribution towards improving the sustainability performance of the Swiss food system.