More on methodology

In this post I will walk you through how I put together an inventory for LCA. I use margarine as an example here.
I wanted to find out the carbon footprints associated with producing margarine globally. After doing some researching of margarine products online, I realized there is no *one * standardized way to produce margarine, the ingredients vary from country to country and also among margarine producers…so I decided to do my LCAs based on all the formulations I could find, and then I would calculate an average value based on the global warming potential I calculated for each formulation.
Firstly, I searched for LCA studies on margarine- and I found one that one included detailed information on the composition of 4 different margarines products (from 4 different European countries):

Comparative life cycle assessment of margarine and butter consumed in the UK, Germany and France. Nilsson et al. (2010).

Next, I looked for more formulations online…

It was hard to find more detailed margarine formulations, as margarine products often consisted of multiple edible oil varieties (such as soya oil, palm oil/palm kernel oil, sunflower oil,etc.) and while the percentage of total edible oils used was given in the ingredients list, I had no idea how much of each was used to produce the margarine.
Eventually, I found one product that had only one edible oil ingredient- margarine made of palm oil here.

It didn’t specify amounts for food additives…so I made the assumption that the amounts of food additives added were low, and therefore overall impact would be low as well.
In the end I had margarine formulation data for 4 countries and put them all in one Excel file.

I worked out the amounts needed to produce one tonne of margarine using each country’s formulation, and then multiplied that by the carbon footprint data per kg of the respective product from LCA databases.

Study on vitamin D fortification of flour

I have a new exciting study on vitamin D fortification to report.

So I was pleased to come across a recent study on large scale food fortification of with vitamin D, conducted by researchers of the University of Birmingham. Vitamin D fortification is important because vitamin D is only found in some foods such as oily fish, meat and eggs, and while you can get it from sun exposure, the intensity of UVB radiation (responsible for converting pre-vitamin D to vitamin D) depends on the season

The study showed that if vitamin D fortification of flour became mandatory by law, it would decrease the prevalence of VD deficiency by 10 million cases (25% of total estimated cases) in the next 90 years. This would also be a rather low-cost intervention, at a cost of 0.12 British Pounds per person. Additionally, a free supplementation scheme targeted at-risk population groups, such as children and ethnic minority groups would potentially decrease the prevalence by a further 33%.
Personally, I think flour fortification with vitamin D would be a good idea, as flour is a more widely consumed food commodity compared to margarine, and this may also extend to certain minority groups. However, I am curious about how the cost of the supplementation, as supplementation generally costs more and how the cost/benefit ratio compares to large scale fortification.

Basics of Life Cycle Assessment

Over the last month, I have been busy with the next stages of my project, which are data collection and doing the assessment of the climate change impacts of the fortificants value chains I am studying.
The methodology I am using for my assessment is called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), which considers the potential environmental impacts associated with a product. The impacts are calculated for all stages of production (‘life cycle’), from the acquisition of raw materials up until the distribution or recycling stage of whatever waste material is left (Klopfer & Grahl). For food fortification value chains, the life cycle would start at the crop production stage and end when the packaged and fortified food is distributed to the consumers.

A simplified flowchart showing the production of vitamin A-fortified sunflower oil. Source: Own drawing

Many different environmental impacts can be assessed through LCA, such as biodiversity, global warming (in terms of global warming potential), ozone depletion, eutrophication (excess amount of nutrients and minerals in a body of water, which may lead to increased algal and plant growth and decrease oxygen content, as well as thus quality among others) and land use. One impact category can be the sum of many factors added together, e.g., when several greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming are examined. Because the ability absorb infrared and reflecting them back to the earth of, say, nitrogen oxide and methane, are higher than CO2, they are expressed in CO2 equivalents for ease of comparison. The environmental impacts are ‘potential’ environmental impacts because the fates of pollutants or greenhouse gases may differ based on the system studied and therefore the severity of impacts may vary.

The framework for doing LCAs are outlined in internationally determined standards (ISO 14040 and ISO1 4041) and are as follows:

• Goal and scope:
Decide what the purpose of your life cycle assessment is, and what product(s) you want to find the impacts for

• Life cycle inventory:
Gather data for all the materials that go into production (inputs), main and co-products from the production process (co-products), and waste materials. This can include anything from energy, fuel, and water to other natural resources and chemicals.

• Life cycle inventory assessment:
Evaluate questions such as, “What are the environmental impacts associated with each of the inputs and outputs from the inventory? Are there any gaps or uncertainties to be aware of?”

• Interpretation:
Evaluate results and try to answer the question(s) posed in goal and scope.

There are certainly advantages and disadvantages related to using the LCA approach. The most important aspects are listed in the table below:

Advantages and disadvantages of the LCA approach (from Curran, 2014)


-Comprehensiveness: LCA looks at the entire life cycle of a product rather than only a select few processes

-Challenges conventional wisdom and assumptions

-Standardized framework


-Does not include socio-economic impacts and factors

-Accuracy of results depends on the completeness of inventory and data quality

-Time-consuming and costly

Personally, LCA made me re-think how my day-to-day actions affect my carbon footprint. For example, I usually refrain from printing out reading material for my studies and thesis whenever I can, as I thought less paper consumption would result in fewer trees being cut down. So I usually read journal articles on-screen. However, if one compares the usage necessary for one hour of reading the material, for screen-reading one would need to take into account the electricity consumption of a computer, as well as the resources and energy required to manufacture the computer, and for it to reach the consumer (me). As for printed materials, one would need to consider all the resources, energy use, etc., to produce the printed pages of paper. If I need to re-read the document numerous times, the benefits of reading journals on-screen seem especially less clear-cut, as I would repeatedly consume electricity to operate the computer, whereas the impacts of the paper document would be restricted to its production and printing.
Here is a LCA report related to this particular comparison for anyone interested in finding out more:

References CURRAN, M. A. 2014. Strengths and Limitations of Life Cycle Assessment. In: KLÖPFFER, W. (ed.) Background and Future Prospects in Life Cycle Assessment. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.

KLÖPFFER, W. & GRAHL, B. 2014. Life cycle assessment (LCA): a guide to best practice, John Wiley & Sons.

Conference visit in the Hague

Apologies for not updating my blog for a longer time! I have been busy working on my literature review, as well as starting the environmental impact assessment.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the launch event for the 2019 Global Food Policy Report and the EAT Lancet Report in The Hague. Both publications are prominent in the CCAFS field, the former making a case for rural revitalization to address developmental shortcomings, and the latter stressing the importance of environmental and human health. After presentations on both publications each were given by Shenggen Fan (Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)) and Fabrice DeClerk (EAT Science Director), a panel discussion was held among academics and professionals in this

My takeaways from this event:

-Malnutrition, poverty, sanitation problems, as well as inequality and environmental degradation persist in rural communities around the world and need to be addressed in order to deliver on SDG goals. The main strategy proposed by the 2019 Global Food Policy Report, “rural revitalization”, promotes making use of new opportunities and technologies, increasing more and better-paid rural jobs, fostering gender equality, as well as better governance of the rural environment.

-Cities can be part of the rural revitalization effort, as rural areas can supply the growing urban populations with food and other commodities. This was referred to as “rurbanomics” in Mr. Fan’s presentation

-Food production should take place within the planetary boundaries*. Crossing these boundaries would not only severely disrupt these processes, but also make agricultural production more difficult.

-Most countries have diets that are neither nutritionally optimal, nor sustainable for our planet, and many populations are affected by under- and overnutrition at the same time.

-Free trade enables food diversity and better nutrition. Trade protectionism, however, adversely food diversity and thus food and nutritional security.

-Food fortification may be part of the solution towards more nutritious and sustainable diets globally. This tool has proven to be a good way to tackle malnutrition. As for environmental impacts, my results hopefully will give me some ideas on that soon.

*Planetary boundaries: This is a concept developed by a team of environmental and earth system scientists in 2009, and refer to a set of nine environmental processes regulating the stability of the ocean, land and the Earth’s atmosphere. Processes include ocean acidification, climate change and nutrient cycles of nitrogen and phosphorus. The scientists defined quantitative ranges for boundaries and as long these are not crossed, the Earth’s processes will resume without disruptions and humans can safely inhabit the Earth.

Instant noodles as a potential food vehicle

I came across an interesting study on fortified instant noodles. Bronder et al.’s research team investigated whether adding fortificants such as iron, vitamin A and B vitamins would affect the sensory properties of the noodles, and whether the nutrients would remain in the product after cooking. Results showed that the addition of fortificants did not significantly impact sensory properties of food, and 75% of folate, vitamin B2 and vitamin B6 added was retained in the noodles after cooking (Bronder et al. 2017).

One of my preferred varieties of instant noodles. Image source

Instant noodles is a widely consumed convenience food found predominantly in Asian countries, like China, Japan and South Korea. However, it is becoming increasingly popular in other countries, too. So there is potential to improve micronutrient intake on a large scale. It would, however, also be rather controversial to fortify these noodles, as instant noodles do contain high amounts of sodium and fat. A South Korean study found that study participants who consume instant noodles frequently were more likely to have metabolic syndrome—a cluster of conditions that increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, such as obesity and high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar (Shin et al. 2014). It remains to be seen if this modified food product gains traction and becomes commercially available. If it does become available in supermarkets in the next few years–I might give it a try, unhealthy or not.


BRONDER, K. L., ZIMMERMAN, S. L., VAN DEN WIJNGAART, A., CODLING, K., JOHNS, K. A. & PACHON, H. 2017. Instant noodles made with fortified wheat flour to improve micronutrient intake in Asia: a review of simulation, nutrient retention and sensory studies. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr, 26, 191-201.
SHIN, H. J., CHO, E., LEE, H.-J., FUNG, T. T., RIMM, E., ROSNER, B., MANSON, J. E., WHEELAN, K. & HU, F. B. 2014. Instant Noodle Intake and Dietary Patterns Are Associated with Distinct Cardiometabolic Risk Factors in Korea. The Journal of Nutrition, 144, 1247-1255.

Arrival in Utrecht

Last Thursday evening, I arrived in Utrecht, the Netherlands, where I will be working with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), a non-profit organization (NPO) that aims to improve the consumption of nutritious and safe food for all people. For my thesis project, I am looking into possible climate change mitigation and adaptation effects of large-scale food fortification. Anthropogenic climate change is a major global threat, and is associated with sea level rise, more extreme and unpredictable weather as well as more natural disasters such as floods and droughts. Food fortification, which is adding vitamins and minerals to foods that are commonly consumed foods to alleviate or decrease the risks of micronutrient deficiency, could indirectly help people to cope better with climate change or potentially act as a lower-emission alternative to satisfy the micronutrient requirement for populations.

A view of the canal in Utrecht city centre

After some intensive house-hunting, online and off-line, I finally found a room for the duration of my internship, and even had a little time to explore the city of Utrecht. As the fourth largest city of the Netherlands, it is a fairly large and busy city, with of lots of shops, canals and bicycles! This city used to be the cultural and religious centre of the Netherlands and today it is known for being the central hub for transport.

Giant whale statue made of 5 tonnes of plastic waste from the ocean. Gets us thinking about the other 150 million still swimming out there…

I started to work at GAIN this week, and thanks to the helpful team of staff members, I am settling in relatively quickly. It has also been interesting to see how GAIN operates. GAIN has multiple offices scattered around Africa, Asia, North America and Europe, and as a result, much of the work involves online video calls and meetings. I had the opportunity to listen in during internal video meetings where different departments shared what projects they have been working on.This started to orient me as to the scope and nature of GAIN’s world-wide programmes.

Now that I am more settled it is time to continue with my literature review…

Why Food Fortification?

Food fortification is a practice which decreases the risk of micronutrient deficiencies by adding micronutrients, vitamins and minerals, to foods. It is considered to be one of the most important strategies to address micronutrient deficiencies on a global scale because food fortification schemes target foods consumed by the majority of world populations, such as wheat, flour and rice.

In the industrialized world, there has been widespread success in reducing population-wide vitamin A, thiamine (vitamin B1), iodine, and niacin (vitamin B3) deficiencies, to mention just a few (World Health Organization 2006, Dwyer et al. 2015). I am certain that you have likely come across milk fortified with Vitamin D, or fortified breakfast cereals. In the developing world, while there is some progress reducing micronutrient deficiencies, much work is still needed, as iron, vitamin A, iodine and zinc deficiencies are still fairly high. In fact, according to the Global Nutrition Report of 2018, almost 2 billion people worldwide suffer from micronutrient deficiencies (Development Initiatives, 2018).

From: World Health Organization 2015. The global prevalence of anaemia in 2011.
Geneva: World Health Organization.

Climate change is likely to increase the disease burden from micronutrient deficiencies. A study showed that increased carbon dioxide levels associated with climate change and changing decreased iron concentrations in wheat, rice, legumes and maize crops (Smith, Golden & Myers 2017). Similary, reseachers in NUI Galway found that beans grown in future drought-conditions induced by climate change will not only contain less iron, but also contain more anti-nutritional compounds such as lead and phytic acid (Hummel et al. 2018). Further large-scale food fortification programmes may be required to address this by adding nutrients back in to staples in order to achieve adequate micronutrient intakes in populations.


Dwyer, J.T., Wiemer, K.L., Dary, O., Keen, C.L., King, J.C., Miller, K.B.,  Philbert, M.A.,Tarasuk, V., Taylor, C.L., Gaine, P.C., Jarvis, A.B. and Bailey, R.L. (2015) Fortification and Health: Challenges and Opportunities. Advances in Nutrition, 6(1), pp. 124– 131,

Development Initiatives, 2018. 2018 Global Nutrition Report: Shining a light to spur action on nutrition. Bristol, UK: Development Initiatives

World Health Organization. (‎2006)‎. Guidelines on food fortification with micronutrients. World Health Organization.

Smith, M.R., Golden, C.D., Myers, S.S. (2017) Potential rise in iron deficiency due to future anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. GeoHealth, 1(6), pp.248–257.

Hummel, M., Hallahan, B.F., Brychkova, G., Ramirez-Villegas, J., Guwela, V., Chataika, B., Curley, E., Morrison, L., Talsma, E., Beebe, S., Jarvis, A., Chirwa, R., and Spillane, C., (2018) Decline in nutritional quality of common bean under climate change induced drought stress in Africa. Nature Scientific Reports 8:16187. https://doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-33952-4.