Agribalyse: Eco-Friendly Eating

What is the environmental impact of a four-cheese pizza? Beef bourguignon? What about apricot jam? That is the sort of question that Agribalyse can answer in just a few clicks. The free database available in French and English, whose third version has just gone on line, aggregates environmental-impact information for 2,500 prepared foods (sandwiches, ready-made meals, soups, pizza and more) as well as 200 agricultural products (meats, fish, vegetables, etc.).

The platform is intended for use both by food industry and agricultural professionals and by concerned individuals who want to know the carbon footprint of what’s on their plates.

This colossal undertaking, which began in 2009, is overseen by two French environmental and agricultural research agencies, the ADEME and the INRAE. Their work is based on a scientific methodology called life-cycle assessment, which quantifies the environmental impact of every stage of a product’s life cycle: production, preparation/processing, transportation, packaging, consumption, etc.

The lower the score, the less the environmental impact

Those measurements make it possible to give each product an environmental score or PEF (Product Environmental Footprint). The lower the score, the less the environmental impact. For example, on Agribalyse, a roasted leg of lamb will soar to a PEF of 6.09, while an instant coffee’s score reaches 4.94. A double cheeseburger at a fast-food place will be 1.7, while a pre-packaged ready-to-heat chicken-vegetable soup flaunts the lowest possible footprint: just 0.01.

14 indicators to learn food’s impact

Since the PEF is based on 14 environmental metrics (climate change, water-resource use, energy-resource use, ozone-layer depletion, etc.), it is possible to learn foods’ impact for each of those indicator categories. What’s more, the share of each stage in the life cycle (agricultural production, transportation, preparation/processing, packaging, distribution and consumption) is specified. So if we look at the leg of lamb for instance, farming, at 98.1%, is almost exclusively responsible for its bad score. For instant coffee, on the other hand, while agriculture still represents 80.3% of the score, processing, at 15.7%, is far from negligible.

So the information is extremely valuable for agriculture and food-business professionals that want to reduce their environmental impact. It provides them with precise metrics for identifying the products and processes that use the most energy, are the most water-intensive or polluting, etc. Agribalyse is also a good way to foster eco-design for new products, like ready-made meals. And individuals can use the data provided by the platform to consume in a more ecofriendly way. This in turn can have an impact on the industry, because, as everyone knows, consumers often decide.