Cost-benefit analysis of sustainable diets

In a context of increasing prevalence of obesity in the EU due to unhealthy diets, coupled with the unsustainable environmental impacts of such diets, WWF-UK, the WWF European Policy Office and Friends of Europe initiated the LiveWell for LIFE project (LiveWell for Low Impact Food in Europe), which introduces the concept of a healthy and sustainable diet: a diet which can both bring significant health benefits to EU citizens and contribute towards the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from food. Under the first steps of this project, low carbon and healthy diets (or ‘LiveWell’ diets) were developed in three pilot countries (France, Spain and Sweden) which were chosen due to the variety of dietary contexts they represent and their different levels of policy readiness for adopting the LiveWell Plate’s recommendations.

As a second step, this study was conducted to assess the economic potential of the adoption of diets meeting the LiveWell Plate recommendations in the EU by 2020 according to various scenarios, as well as the economic viability of policy options to encourage their adoption. The main methodological tools employed were in-depth desk research, country studies in the pilot countries of the LiveWell for LIFE project, interviews with key stakeholders and experts at EU and international level, modelling of the effects of a switch to healthier and more sustainable diets, and a cost-benefit analysis of selected policy options to meet the LiveWell Plate’s recommendations.

The study investigated the projected effects in 2020 of the adoption of the LiveWell Plate’s recommendations by an additional 30% (LiveWell 30% scenario) and an additional 70% (LiveWell 70% scenario) of the EU population compared to the reference scenario, supported by the use of the CAPRI (Common Agricultural Policy Regionalised Impact) modelling framework. The effects that were modelled in CAPRI include (1) effects on consumption patterns; (2) effects on consumer prices; (3) market effects (including effects on producer prices, production, and trade in relevant markets); (4) effects on economic welfare; and (5) effects on the environment.

In addition, in order to encourage the adoption of these diets, the costs and benefits of a range of policy options were analysed and recommendations for their potential implementation developed accordingly: introduction of “Food, Nutrition and the Environment” education; introduction of an EU-wide mandatory environmental labelling of food products; introduction of taxation measures including a higher tax rate on unhealthy food/food with high environmental impacts or a reduced VAT rate on healthy food with low environmental impacts; or the development of a national sustainable food strategy.