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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Examining the Environmental Impacts of the Dairy and Baby Food Industries: Are First-Food Systems a Crucial Missing Part of the Healthy and Sustainable Food Systems Agenda Now Underway?

Pope, Daniel H.; Karlsson, Johan O.; Baker, Phillip; McCoy, David


Food systems are increasingly being understood as driving various health and ecological crises and their transformation is recognised as a key opportunity for planetary health. First-food systems represent an underexplored aspect of this transformation. Despite breastfeeding representing the optimal source of infant nutrition, use of commercial milk formula (CMF) is high and growing rapidly. In this review, we examine the impact of CMF use on planetary health, considering in particular its effects on climate change, water use and pollution and the consequences of these effects for human health. Milk is the main ingredient in the production of CMF, making the role of the dairy sector a key area of attention. We find that CMF use has twice the carbon footprint of breastfeeding, while 1 kg of CMF has a blue water footprint of 699 L; CMF has a significant and harmful environmental impact. Facilitation and protection of breastfeeding represents a key part of developing sustainable first-food systems and has huge potential benefits for maternal and child health.


breast milk; commercial milk formula; climate change; environment; water use

Published in

International journal of environmental research and public health
2021, volume: 18, number: 23, article number: 12678
Publisher: MDPI

Authors' information

Pope, Daniel H.
University of London
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Energy and Technology
Baker, Phillip
Deakin University
McCoy, David
University of London

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG6 Clean water and sanitation
SDG3 Good health and well-being
SDG2 Zero hunger

UKÄ Subject classification

Food Science
Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology
Climate Research

Publication Identifiers


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