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Sustainability 2018, 10(4), 925;

An Integrated Approach to a Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE) Indicator for the Food Production–Consumption Chain

Louis Bolk Institute, Driebergen 3972LA, The Netherlands
Faculty of Science, Earth and Climate, VU University, Amsterdam 1081HV, The Netherlands
Department of Natural & The Environment and The Sustainability Institute, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824, USA
Energy Research Center of the Netherlands, Petten 1755LE, The Netherlands
Department of Environmental Science, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Current address: PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, The Hague 2594AV, The Netherlands.
Received: 13 December 2017 / Revised: 19 March 2018 / Accepted: 20 March 2018 / Published: 22 March 2018
(This article belongs to the Section Sustainable Use of the Environment and Resources)
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Reducing nitrogen pollution across the food chain requires the use of clear and comprehensive indicators to track and manage losses. The challenge is to derive an easy-to-use robust nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) indicator for entire food systems to help support policy development, monitor progress and inform consumers. Based on a comparison of four approaches to NUE (life cycle analysis, nitrogen footprint, nitrogen budget, and environmental impact assessment), we propose an indicator for broader application at the national scale: The whole food chain (NUEFC), which is defined as the ratio of the protein (expressed as nitrogen) available for human consumption to the (newly fixed and imported) nitrogen input to the food system. The NUEFC was calculated for a set of European countries between 1980 and 2011. A large variation in NUEFC was observed within countries in Europe, ranging from 10% in Ireland to 40% in Italy in 2008. The NUEFC can be used to identify factors that influence it (e.g., the share of biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) in new nitrogen, the imported and exported products and the consumption), which can be used to propose potential improvements on the national scale. View Full-Text
Keywords: nitrogen use efficiency; food chain; Europe; budget nitrogen use efficiency; food chain; Europe; budget

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Erisman, J.W.; Leach, A.; Bleeker, A.; Atwell, B.; Cattaneo, L.; Galloway, J. An Integrated Approach to a Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE) Indicator for the Food Production–Consumption Chain. Sustainability 2018, 10, 925.

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