The role of diet in phosphorus demand

Geneviève S. Metson, Elena M. Bennett, James J. Elser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


Over the past 50 years, there have been major changes in human diets, including a global average increase in meat consumption and total calorie intake. We quantified how changes in annual per capita national average diets affected requirements for mined P between 1961 and 2007, starting with the per capita availability of a food crop or animal product and then determining the P needed to grow the product. The global per capita P footprint increased 38% over the 46 yr time period, but there was considerable variability among countries. Phosphorus footprints varied between 0.35 kg P capita-1 yr -1 (DPR Congo, 2007) and 7.64 kg P capita-1 yr -1 (Luxembourg, 2007). Temporal trends also differed among countries; for example, while China's P footprint increased almost 400% between 1961 and 2007, the footprints of other countries, such as Canada, decreased. Meat consumption was the most important factor affecting P footprints; it accounted for 72% of the global average P footprint. Our results show that dietary shifts are an important component of the human amplification of the global P cycle. These dietary trends present an important challenge for sustainable P management.

Original languageEnglish
Article number044043
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2012


  • diet
  • fertilizer
  • footprint
  • phosphorus
  • sustainability


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