Glossary of terms

Here you will find definitions of terms used in resources on the Foodsource website. You will also find these definitions on the right-hand side within chapters. If you have any suggestions for new glossary items, let us know here.

2 (1) | A (13) | B (6) | C (15) | D (6) | E (8) | F (12) | G (4) | H (3) | I (7) | L (5) | M (12) | N (7) | O (4) | P (9) | R (7) | S (10) | T (1) | U (2) | W (4) | Y (1) | Z (2)

Cohort study

A cohort study, commonly used in medical and nutritional epidemiology, is a longitudinal study that samples a cohort (a group of people that is defined by having experienced the same event, e.g. birth or graduation, in a selected time period) and follows it over time to investigate people’s exposure to certain factors (e.g. the consumption of certain foods) and the occurrence of particular health outcomes. For example, a cohort study may measure the dietary patterns over time of a group of people who were born between 1960 and 1970 to find out which dietary patterns are associated with the development of diabetes or particular cancers. There are two types of cohort studies. Prospective studies follow a cohort of people who differ by certain factors (e.g. smokers and non-smokers) to study which medical conditions appear in what part of the cohort (e.g. after 20 years more smokers than non-smokers have developed lung cancer). Retrospective studies study a cohort after a medical condition (e.g. lung cancer) has occurred in a part of the group to trace back which factors (e.g. smoking) may have contributed to this.

Cold chain

A cold chain is a supply chain or part of a supply chain where products and raw materials are stored or transported at low temperatures (either frozen or refrigerated at a temperature generally lower than 8°C).

Colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancers are those of the bowel and colon.

Confounding factor

A confounding factor is a factor that influences the relationship between variables that are investigated. In dietary research, for example, a lack of physical exercise may potentially confound the association between the consumption of soda beverages and overweight: when those who drink the most soda beverages are generally more overweight, but also exercise less, the association between the consumption of soda beverages and overweight may be caused partly or entirely by a lack of exercise. Other common confounding factors include age, gender, whether people smoke or drink alcohol, occupation, educational attainment, or income. Confounding factors are a potential bias in statistical research and may lead to over- or under-estimating the relationship between variables. While theoretically their number can be infinite, statistical research often accounts for a set of known potential confounding factors.

Conservation grazing

Conservation grazing is the use of grazing livestock to maintain or increase the biodiversity of natural pastures and other habitats.

Decoupling (or eco-economic decoupling)

Decoupling refers to the idea of disconnecting the growth of gross domestic product (GDP) from increases in environmental impacts – climate change in particular. The term is sometimes used more broadly in relation to overall human well-being rather than GDP. The idea of decoupling is based on the understanding that economic growth often goes hand in hand with increases in environmental impacts. Advocates of decoupling think that advances in technology will provide ways of fostering economic growth without increasing the use of resources or the generation of environmental impacts, and without requiring radical shifts in aspirations as to what constitutes a ‘good’ standard of living. Decoupling can be used both in a relative sense (e.g. a lower ratio of environmental impacts versus GDP) and in an absolute sense (i.e. the overall amount of environmental impacts is reduced). Relative decoupling is sometimes criticised for being open ended and thereby failing to speak to the need of keeping production and consumption levels within environmental limits. In general, critics question whether decoupling (both relative and absolute) is feasible for diverse reasons: because of the possibility of rebound effects; because it is unlikely to be possible to separate the production of goods and services from resource use (and the impacts of this resource use) to the degree that is necessary; and because the growth-based economic paradigm on which faith in decoupling is based fails to challenge the potential insatiability of human demand – an insatiability which (it is argued) lies at the root of our environmental crisis.


Deforestation is the clearance of forest or standing trees from land as it is converted to non-forest use. Deforestation can include the conversion of forest land to ranches or other agricultural activities. Important drivers of deforestation are the use of land for agriculture, ranching, infrastructure, urban expansion, and mining. Deforestation is often defined in relation to a cut-off date – e.g. all forest land cleared after June 2008 could be considered to be deforestation. Deforestation is a particular form of land use change. The concept is not commonly used to refer to types of land use change where other areas that may contain native vegetation (e.g. hay, marshes, savannas) are converted.

Deforestation risk

Deforestation risk is a concept used by supply chain transparency initiatives such as Trase to express the amount of deforestation or clearance of native vegetation after a certain cut-off date that can be linked to a particular batch of soy or another commodity. The deforestation risk is calculated as the number of hectares that is cleared of native vegetation in a particular region per tonne of yield, and is assigned to a trader or country on the basis of the amount of product it sources from that specific region. If a buyer sources 500 t soy from a region that produces 1000 t and where 800 ha of deforestation can be linked to soy production, the buyer faces a deforestation risk of 400 hectares (50% of the total) in this region.


Desertification refers to a process by which fertile land becomes desert; this can be due to deforestation, drought or inappropriate agriculture methods.

Dietary survey

The term 'dietary survey' refers to a group of methods that are used to collect food consumption data to study the diets of individuals or groups. Common methods in dietary surveys are food frequency questionnaires, food diaries, and 24-hour recalls. These are often combined with the weighing and analysis of food to determine its nutritional properties. Dietary surveys are sometimes combined with other methods (e.g. the measurement of BMI or blood values) to study the relations between certain dietary patterns and health outcomes. National dietary surveys, conducted and commissioned by national and international health authorities, study national dietary patterns and are often an important input for the development of food policy.

Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs)

Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) are a way of measuring the burden of ill health. One DALY can be thought of as one lost year of healthy life. Across a population, DALYs are calculated by adding together years of life during which illness is experienced, weighted according to the severity of the illness, and years of life lost to premature mortality.

Ecological intensification

Ecological intensification is the principle of using the natural functionalities of an ecosystem to produce greater amounts of food, fibre, and fuel in sustainable ways. Underpinning EI is the idea that ecological functions (e.g. pollination and predator/prey relationships) can be integrated into agricultural practices, ideally leading to ‘agroecosystems’ that are sustained by natural processes and avoid many negative environmental impacts. Ecological intensification is closely related to the concepts of sustainable intensification and climate smart agriculture, but differs in its strong focus on the potential of enhancing ecological processes in food production.

Ecosystem services

Ecosystem services are the tangible and intangible benefits that are provided by ecosystems to humans, which both enable human life and that contribute to its quality. Ecosystem services include provisioning services such as food and water; regulating services such as flood and disease control; cultural services such as spiritual, recreational, and cultural benefits; and supporting services such as nutrient cycling that maintain the conditions for life on Earth.


Ecotoxicity refers to the toxicology of pollutants in the environment. The study of ecotoxicology includes consideration of the interaction of pollutants both with abiotic aspects of the environment - soil, air and water; and how they interact with living systems, at the level of cell, organ, and organism to communities and ecosystems.

Eddy covariance

Eddy covariance is a meteorological monitoring technique that can be used to measure the movement of different gases in situ. Applications include, for example, to measure the concentration of methane in the air near agricultural sources.