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 (12) | B (5) | C (16) | D (4) | E (8) | F (12) | G (4) | H (3) | I (6) | L (5) | M (12) | N (6) | O (4) | P (9) | R (8) | S (9) | T (1) | U (2) | W (4) | Y (1) | Z (1)

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

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

Decoupling (or eco-economic decoupling)

This concept is used to refer 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.


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

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

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

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.

Endemic species

is a plant or animal species that is unique to a specific geographic location, such as a country or an island. Usually the area where an endemic species live is isolated, making it difficult for the species to move to other areas. Endemic species are often uniquely adapted to the specific environment in which they live. Almost all endemic species are specialist species.

Enteric fermentation

Enteric fermentation is a natural part of the digestive process of ruminant animals (e.g. cattle and sheep) where microbes decompose and ferment the food present in large rumen portion of the stomach. As a byproduct of this fermentation process, some bacteria species in the stomach produce methane.


Epidemiology is a scientific dicipline that uses data mathematical tools to understand the patterns of disease found in human populations and changes therin. It seeks to explain exactly how these patterns are caused in order to identify ways to control and treat health problems.