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Linkage of food consumption and export to ammonia emissions in Canada and the overriding implications for mitigation

Sheppard, S.C., Bittman, S. (2015). Linkage of food consumption and export to ammonia emissions in Canada and the overriding implications for mitigation, 103 43-52.


© 2014 Elsevier Ltd. Ammonia (NH3) emissions from agriculture to the atmosphere, along with emissions of other pollutants from a variety of sources, are of concern to agriculture worldwide. National emissions from agricultural sources in Canada are linked to domestic consumption and export demand for agricultural products. The onus to limit emissions is often directed to the producers, but the marketplace and consumer are also responsible for the environmental impact of their choices. This objective of this study was to quantitatively link agricultural NH3 emissions to per person consumption of food and protein and to agricultural exports from Canada. There are substantial differences in the NH3 emissions per unit consumed protein among the various food types. As a result, shifts in the Canadian diet have had a large impact on relative per person NH3 emissions. From 1981 to 2006, the total per person protein intake in the Canadian diet increased about 5%, but NH3 emission related to that diet decreased 20%. This is largely related to consumption of less beef, which has a high emission per unit of meat or protein, and more poultry and cereals which have much lower emissions. Although these changes in diet were not because of environmental concerns by the consumers, they had substantial effects on national-level emissions. These consumer driven effects may well exceed the possible effects of best management practices intended to address NH3 emissions at the producer level. Note that the Canadian population has increased 50% from 1981 to 2006 and meat and egg exports increased 570%, so that total emissions from food production in Canada have increased. Our results imply there will be further effects on national NH3 emissions because of dietary and export drivers that are generally outside the scope of agro-environmental policy.

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