LIFE CYCLE ANALYSIS
Butter Is Toast
. . . in an environmental showdown with margarine
By David Tyler
My father-in-law was in the dairy business for over 40 years, and—as might be expected—he had nothing good to say about margarine. He called it a synthetic product of the chemical industry. Butter, of course, was natural and therefore better. I mischievously delighted in pointing out to him the purported health benefits of margarine over butter. If it had been available at the time, a recent life cycle assessment (LCA) comparing butter to margarine in the U.K., Germany, and France could have helped me make an even stronger case for margarine—this time from an environmental standpoint. The comparative LCA found that margarine has a significantly lower environmental impact than butter in four important areas: global warming potential (GWP; i.e., carbon footprint), eutrophication potential, acidification potential, and land impact. Butter has a smaller environmental impact than margarine only with respect to its photochemical ozone creation potential, POCP. Margarine’s POCP is higher because hexane, which facilitates the formation of ozone in the lower atmosphere, is used in the vegetable oil–extraction process used to make margarine. Making margarine from vegetable oil is undeniably an industrial chemical process!
What makes the results of this comparative LCA so striking is that the impact differences between butter and margarine are so large. The carbon footprint of butter is over four times that of margarine. The large GWP for butter is attributable primarily to methane from dairy cows’ digestive systems, emissions from manure, and the production of feed for the cows. For the eutrophication and acidification impacts, the footprint of butter is at least twice that of margarine. Finally, land use for butter is about twice that of margarine because more land is needed to produce the feed for dairy cows than is needed to grow the crops for vegetable oil used to make margarine.
Overall, this is not one of those comparative LCAs where the differences between the two products are slight and the results might change depending on a small improvement here or there. The researchers had no hesitation in decisively concluding that margarine beats butter by most environmental measures.
Dear Mr. Tyler,
Please, we beg you not to write for this or any magazine. Your article is appaling whereby your neutral stand on the issue must be sponsored by no other than the same synthetic industrial product you seem to be very careful about critizising let alone the shameful fact that you use your father as an escape goat so as to maintain your neutrality. Margarine may I remind you is POISON brought in to the world by the American industrial revolution and is no different poison than the next best industrial product used by millions of deceived Americans and Canadians – Canola oil. Let’s leave it and in the meantime stick to your industrial product propaganda or do some real unbiased research! First time I read this magazine and thanks to your synical article, it shall be the last!
Two of the four authors from the source articles are Uniliver employees, yet no mention of that in the summary article. Assuming this is the same David Tyler as the linkedin profile I was just viewing. Mr Tyler has also been previously employed by Unilever and would certainly of had a working relationship with the industrial food producer as Chairman of Sainsbury’s. There is a debate to be had about sustainability of spreads and food oils, but, as ever transparency and integrity are essential. Am disappointed not have seen more of them here.
From the the many vegetable based spreads available throughout Europe, how was the selection made? How many others were analysed and left out? Was it really necessary to double the manufacturing energy figures for butter to make the study more representative?
The David Tyler who wrote this article is not the same David Tyler who worked for Sainsbury’s and Unilever. It was poor form of me to not have realised this before writing my above comment.