Beyond the borders: Burdens of Swedish food consumption due to agrochemicals, greenhouse gases and land-use change

Cederberg, C., Persson, U. M., Schmidt, S., Hedenus, F. and Wood, R. (2019).  Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 214: 644–52. DOI: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.12.313 (open access)

A summary of the main PRINCE findings on the environmental footprint of Swedish food consumption


Sweden’s environmental policy aims to solve domestic environmental problems without increasing environmental and health impacts overseas. Realizing this aim requires an indicator system with a consumption-based (or “footprint”) perspective that captures both local and global impacts and their development over time.

In this paper, PRINCE researchers led by Christel Cederberg present a set of novel footprint indicators to measure environmental pressures from Swedish food consumption. The indicators are calculated by combining data and statistics on agrochemicals and deforestation-related emissions with EXIOBASE3. (EXIOBASE was used instead of the PRINCE model for its greater disaggregation of agricultural activities.)

 Figure 1. Per capita footprints for Swedish consumption of herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, veterinary medicine year 2013 (left to right, top row) and emissions of fossil carbon, methane, nitrous oxide and carbon from land-use change year 2011 (left to right, bottom row), by region of production. Blue bars represent footprints for final consumption of food, while grey bars represent the full consumption footprint, covering all final consumption (excluded for fossil CO2, as this is would include all fossil CO2 emissions in the economy). Circle insets show the share of impacts originating from Swedish production (dark blue) versus imports (light blue).

The authors estimate the use of pesticides and antimicrobial veterinary medicines associated with current Swedish food consumption and compare those footprint indicators with the EU-28. Carbon emissions from deforestation are calculated with a land-balance model and included in the overall carbon footprint of food.

The paper finds that Sweden, with its large reliance of food imports, exerts a significant agrochemical and climate footprint overseas, mainly in the EU and Latin America. The authors point to a need for better data and statistics on the use of pesticides, veterinary medicines and agrochemical residues (especially in developing countries) as well as improved spatial data on agricultural activity to further reduce uncertainty in the environmental footprint of Swedish food consumption.

This paper is the main output of PRINCE subproject 3.