A new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that if all animal-based food production in the United States were replaced by nutritionally equivalent plant-based crops, the country could feed an additional 350 million people (which is more than the total US population). Researchers examined food waste—which is often quantified only in weight—by taking into consideration the environmental resources that are used to produce certain wasted foods, a system of measurement they called “opportunity food loss.” The study compared the amount of resources used to produce animal-based foods in five categories (beef, pork, poultry, dairy, and eggs) to those used for nutritionally equivalent plant-based foods and found that the latter could produce up to 20 times more protein per acre. In terms of beef, researchers found that the land area used to produce four grams of edible protein would yield 100 grams of the protein if used to grow a mix of soy, potatoes, cane sugar, peanuts, and garlic—an opportunity food loss of 96 grams (or 96 percent) per unit of land. The other four categories of animal-based food also yielded high opportunity food losses: 90 percent for pork, 75 percent for dairy, 50 percent for poultry, and 40 percent for eggs. “Our analysis has shown that favoring a plant-based diet can potentially yield more food than eliminating all the conventionally defined causes of food loss,” lead author Alon Shepon said.
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