Feeding The World And Reducing Land Use With A Plant-Based Diet
According to the largest statistical analysis of global food systems to date, if everyone in the world adopted a plant-based diet, the world population could be fed using only 25% of the land that we use today.
Agriculture is currently the biggest driver of deforestation and biodiversity loss, and this has prompted researchers to investigate the impact of different types of food production and consumption on global land use. This article in particular focuses on the findings of the most comprehensive analysis of the impact of global food production on the environment, as well as on the impact of diets on climate change and biodiversity loss. Different high-quality protein sources and protein efficiency are also addressed. The current global diet is estimated to use 4.13 billion hectares of land (or about 16 million square miles), which corresponds to half of all the world’s habitable land. Of this, approximately 80% is used as pastureland and croplands to produce meat and dairy. Plant-based diets require less cropland, with the vegan diet using 75% less land than omnivorous diets. This would equal to freeing an area the size of North America and Brazil.
But why plant-based diets require less land?
Globally, only 48% of the cereals grown in the world are eaten by humans, with 41% eaten by farmed animals and 11% used as biofuel. The same happens with other foods as well. For example, only 7% of all soy produced is used for human consumption. In the U.S., these numbers are even lower, with only 10% of all produced cereals eaten by humans. The cereals and soy fed to farmed animals are converted into energy needed by the animals to live and reach a target weight. When animals are slaughtered to produce meat, the cereal intake used to feed them is consumed by humans. However, data show that meat and dairy production tends to be a highly inefficient way to produce food, as most of the energy — measured in calories — fed to the animals is lost in the production process. One example of energy loss is cow meat or “beef.” Beef meat has an energy efficiency of 2%, which means that for every 100 kilocalories fed to a cow, only 2 kilocalories are obtained by eating beef. While beef is the most inefficient meat both in terms of energy and protein, all animal-based proteins are less efficient compared to plant-based ones. Examples of high-quality plant-based proteins include peas, beans, soy, tofu and other soy-derived foods.
Why is reducing global land use important?
Agriculture is currently the main driver of deforestation and biodiversity loss, both of which are major environmental issues of our time. It is estimated that two-thirds of land used for pastures is not suitable for growing crops. Therefore, if animal agriculture would be abandoned, billions of hectares could be left to recover from human intervention, with ecosystems and biodiversity being potentially restored. In short, eating plant-based proteins requires less land compared to pasture and crops employed for farmed animals, therefore plant-based diets have the potential to free up land for the purpose of ecosystems and biodiversity recovery.
This article offers comprehensive and reliable data supporting the efficiency of plant-based diets, and particularly of a vegan diet, in successfully providing nutrient-dense foods to the world population, freeing billions of hectares of agricultural land to restore ecosystems, encouraging biodiversity recovery, and improving carbon storage capacity. Animal advocates and environmental activists may find the information provided in this article useful to campaign for individual, community, and political action aimed at encouraging the adoption of a plant-based diet and the phasing out of animal food production.