New research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences modeled what a total shift to a vegan diet would do for U.S. food and greenhouse gas production.
According to the research, removing all animal food from the supply chain would increase U.S. food production by 23 percent. Currently, the USDA estimates 12.6 percent of the U.S. population is food insecure. The researchers also noted that under a vegan model, the diet shift would decrease agriculture greenhouse gases by 28 percent.
“Testing for the outcomes of benefits and adverse effects with livestock removal is complicated by the number, accuracy, and complexity of assumptions that need to be made in representing changes in food production systems,” the authors note. “The scenario that requires the fewest assumptions in the elimination of animal agriculture, which also represents the boundary of the potential impact of other intermediate measures (e.g., partial livestock removal, reduced red meat consumption).”
The researchers looked at the contributions made by both livestock and plant-based ingredients to the food system and found that the easiest switch would be for grains to account for the largest production increase, followed by legumes, and fresh fruits and vegetables. The researchers noted there were some limitations on increased fruit and vegetable production that “may reflect suitability of land, climate, and infrastructure to grow these crops.”
But it didn’t specify whether it looked at the growing urban farming trend, which many communities are embracing. These aren’t upgrades to conventional rural agriculture operations; they’re new paradigms popping up in city centers where they didn’t exist before, making fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible to urban populations. More people now live in cities than in rural settings. The decrease on transport from country to city also makes these operations better options for the environment. Likewise, the increase in plant production would mitigate some greenhouse gases and help soil trap excess carbon. However, the model did show the decrease may be less than expected because of the need to offset the loss of animal manure for crops with synthetic fertilizer.
The research showed some other cause for concern — something many food producers today would call a challenge instead of a flaw, though; the study revealed potential nutrient deficiencies with the removal of all animal products from the food supply – mainly healthy fats and specific vitamins like D and B12. These are issues technology is already tackling – the ability to upgrade the nutrient profile of a plant ingredient, for example, or fortifying finished foods like bread and nondairy milks to contain the necessary nutrients. These are small adjustments far easier to tackle than antibiotic resistance or foodborne illnesses prevalent in animal-based foods. And as millions of Americans are already proving, going vegan is easier than ever.