Ditching resource-intensive animal products – such as beef and eggs – in favor of vegan foods could help feed the growing population by a 20-fold or 1900 percent increase, according to a new study.
Strategies are needed to increase food production while minimizing environmental impact. The human population is projected to keep surging, set to reach 9.8 billion by 2050. With this rise, the food supply will need to double in the coming years.
One solution, according to the recent study, is to reconfigure the way we eat.
Reducing the consumption of meat and other animal products could have an immense impact on food availability. “[R]eplacing all animal-based items in the US diet with plant-based alternatives will add enough food to feed, in full, 350 million additional people,” the study reads. It adds that this shift would be more effective than eliminating all supply chain food loss problems. The study continues, “These results highlight the importance of dietary shifts to improving food availability and security.”
“Opportunity food loss” is a term associated with food wastage that could be impacted (and improved) by the dietary choices of consumers. Opportunity food loss for animal products is high. For beef, it sits at 96 percent, meaning that the area of land required to produce 100 grams of plant protein, produces just four grams of beef. Pork, dairy, poultry, and eggs share similarly high opportunity losses, at 90 percent, 75 percent, 50 percent, and 40 percent respectively.
“Because plant alternatives need less land per unit protein or energy, replacing animal-based items with plant alternatives frees up agricultural land that can then be repurposed for growing additional food,” the study reads. In fact, research published by the University of Oxford said that global land use would drop by 75 percent if everyone stopped eating beef and went vegan.
The change would also free up crops that are currently being grown exclusively for livestock. The majority of alfalfa, oats, grain, and corn produced is fed directly to factory farmed animals when it could be feeding humans.
The change would also benefit the economy, the study suggests. Researchers considered the number of deaths associated with meat consumption that could be avoided with an increased intake of vegan foods; this could save approximately $63 billion USD. Another $18 billion could be spared due to the greenhouse gas emissions associated with animal agriculture, saving roughly $80 billion altogether – this is similar to the amount of money that agriculture contributes to the economy.
As well as increased food production, shifting toward plant-based foods could largely reduce the strain on the planet; animal agriculture is a driver of water loss, desertification, ocean dead zones, and species extinction. Recent research even stated that adopting a vegan diet is the “single biggest way“ to reduce one’s impact on the planet.