IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this article

The nitrogen footprint of food products and general consumption patterns in Austria

Listed author(s):
  • Pierer, Magdalena
  • Winiwarter, Wilfried
  • Leach, Allison M.
  • Galloway, James N.
Registered author(s):

    In this paper we use nitrogen (N) footprints as indicators of potential environmental impacts of food production in Austria. These footprints trace the losses of reactive nitrogen (Nr), i.e. N compounds that are generally accessible to biota, in connection to the chain of food production and consumption. While necessary for food production, Nr is known for its negative environmental impacts. The N footprints presented here describe Nr losses but do not link to effects directly. In deriving N footprints, Nr lost along the production chain needs to be quantified, expressed as “virtual nitrogen factors” (VNF). We calculated specific VNF for Austrian production conditions for a set of eight broad food categories (poultry, pork, beef, milk, vegetables & fruit, potatoes, legumes, cereals). The life-cycle oriented nitrogen footprints for the respective food groups were replenished by assessing Nr losses related to energy needs and to food consumption. The results demonstrate that in general, animal based products are less nitrogen-efficient than plant based products. For meat, footprints range from 64gN per kg (pork) to 134gN per kg (beef). For vegetable products, footprints are between 5gN per kg (potatoes) and 22gN per kg (legumes). The detailed ranking of food products is different when relating nitrogen footprints to either simple mass of food, or protein content. Vegetables & fruit cause only 9gN per kg, but 740gN per kg protein, which is even higher than pork (616gN per kg protein) or poultry (449gN per kg protein). These differences clearly show that taking into account protein and other aspects of food quality may be crucial for a proper assessment of dietary choices. The total N footprint per Austrian inhabitant is dominated by food production and consumption (85%) but also includes other activities linked to fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere (notably combustion). The average N footprint is 19.8kgN per year per Austrian inhabitant, which is on the lower end of a range of industrialized countries.

    If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Full text for ScienceDirect subscribers only

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.

    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Food Policy.

    Volume (Year): 49 (2014)
    Issue (Month): P1 ()
    Pages: 128-136

    in new window

    Handle: RePEc:eee:jfpoli:v:49:y:2014:i:p1:p:128-136
    DOI: 10.1016/j.foodpol.2014.07.004
    Contact details of provider: Web page:

    References listed on IDEAS
    Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

    in new window

    1. Wiedmann, Thomas & Minx, Jan & Barrett, John & Wackernagel, Mathis, 2006. "Allocating ecological footprints to final consumption categories with input-output analysis," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 56(1), pages 28-48, January.
    2. González, Alejandro D. & Frostell, Björn & Carlsson-Kanyama, Annika, 2011. "Protein efficiency per unit energy and per unit greenhouse gas emissions: Potential contribution of diet choices to climate change mitigation," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(5), pages 562-570, October.
    3. Stehfest, Elke & Berg, Maurits van den & Woltjer, Geert & Msangi, Siwa & Westhoek, Henk, 2013. "Options to reduce the environmental effects of livestock production – Comparison of two economic models," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 114(C), pages 38-53.
    4. Nijdam, Durk & Rood, Trudy & Westhoek, Henk, 2012. "The price of protein: Review of land use and carbon footprints from life cycle assessments of animal food products and their substitutes," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 37(6), pages 760-770.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

    When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:eee:jfpoli:v:49:y:2014:i:p1:p:128-136. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Dana Niculescu)

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

    If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.