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National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis

Project Description

This working group is conducting the first-ever comparison of the environmental impacts of the full suite of major food systems, a necessary first step to identify ways to achieve sustainable food production at local, regional, and global scales. All food production relies on natural resources and, thus, impacts the environment. Impact assessments to date have focused on either one food system, such as beef production, or one impact, such as greenhouse gas emissions, at a time. While valuable, these segmented assessments do not allow for holistic comparisons across different food sources nor fully informed decision-making. This working group is synthesizing the science on the environmental impacts and sustainability potential of all major food systems. With this information, they are also generating maps indicating where food production systems are located around the world and the magnitude of their impacts. The maps will then inform a set of scenarios to elucidate the environmental consequences and tradeoffs of the various food production systems into the future, given varying levels of human demand. By understanding these possible futures, decision-makers today can better design policies that will create sustainable food systems.

Working Group Participants

Principal Investigator(s)

Benjamin S. Halpern

Project Dates

Start: November 29, 2017



Julia L. Blanchard
University of Tasmania
Lex Bouwman
PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency
Richard S Cottrell
University of Tasmania
Melanie Frazier
University of California, Santa Barbara
Halley Froehlich
University of California, Santa Barbara
Jessica Gephart
University of Maryland
Benjamin S. Halpern
University of California, Santa Barbara
Caitlin Kuempel
University of Queensland
Peter B. McIntyre
Cornell University
Marc Metian
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
Daniel Moran
Norwegian University of Science and Technology
Kirsty L Nash
University of Tasmania
Nis Sand Jacobsen
University of Washington
Johannes Többen
Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
David R. Williams
University of California, Santa Barbara


  1. Journal Article / 2020

    Global adoption of novel aquaculture feeds could substantially reduce forage fish demand by 2030

  2. Journal Article / 2021

    Opinion: Time to rethink trophic levels in aquaculture policy

  3. Journal Article / 2019

    Opinion: Putting all foods on the same table: Achieving sustainable food systems requires full accounting

  4. Journal Article / 2020

    Integrating life cycle and impact assessments to map food's cumulative environmental footprint

  5. Journal Article / 2021

    An informed thought experiment exploring the potential for a paradigm shift in aquatic food production

  6. Journal Article / 2021

    Emerging COVID-19 impacts, responses, and lessons for building resilience in the seafood system

  7. Journal Article / 2020

    Early effects of COVID-19 on US fisheries and seafood consumption

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