Old wine in new bottles

09 September 2021
societal metabolism
common agricultural policy
water–energy–food nexus
sustainable development goals

In a just-released paper, MAGIC researchers present the insights from carrying out a pan-EU sustainability assessment using Farm Accountancy Data Network (FADN) data (the old wine) with societal metabolism accounting (SMA) processes (the new bottles). The SMA was deployed as part of a transdisciplinary study with EU policy stakeholders of how EU policy may need to change to deliver sustainability commitments, particularly to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The paper outlines the concepts underlying SMA and its specific implementation using the FADN data. A key focus was on the interactions between crop and livestock systems and how this determines imported feedstuffs requirements, with environmental and other footprints beyond the EU. Examples of agricultural production systems performance are presented in terms of financial/efficiency, resource use (particularly the water footprint) and quantifies potential pressures on the environment. Benefits and limitations of the FADN dataset and the SMA outputs are discussed, highlighting the challenges of linking quantified pressures with environmental impacts. The authors conclude that the complexity of agriculture’s interactions with economy and society means there is great need for conceptual frameworks, such as SMA, that can take multiple, non-equivalent, perspectives and that can be deployed with policy stakeholders despite generating uncomfortable knowledge.

Read the full paper at: https://doi.org/10.3390/su131810080 (open access).