Research project A food basket comparison of the environmental impact of various agricultural production systems


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Main research question

We wish to gain insight in the strength and weakness of the life cycle analysis (LCA) methodology to assess the environmental sustainability of food products. We pay special attention to the variation in agricultural production systems and techniques and their effect on or contribution to the environmental sustainability of the produced food. We account for both, negative and positive contributions. The gained insights should show (advanced) research opportunities. This study is commissioned by Flanders’ Department of Environment.

Research approach

We search through scientific literature and apply the LCA methodology to (1) explore shortcomings of and (advanced) research opportunities for LCA as a method to assess food product environmental impacts, and, (2) calculate the environmental sustainability of a food basket composed of a fixed assortment of Belgian products that each originate from a different agricultural production system or are produced using specific agricultural techniques. In the practical section, we apply a classic life cycle impact assessment to quantify the negative impact of food production and we extend it with an adapted method that integrates the positive impacts of the co-delivered ecosystem services.


We gain more insight in the shortcomings of the LCA methodology to quantify and compare the environmental sustainability of food products that originate from different agricultural production systems or that are produced using specific agricultural techniques. We know whether we can account for positive contributions from specific production systems and techniques when assessing the environmental sustainability of food products, and if so, how.