U.S. land capacity for feeding people could expand with dietary changes
BOSTON (July 22, 2016)—A new “food-print” model that measures the per-person land requirements of different diets suggests that, with dietary changes, the U.S. could feed significantly more people from existing agricultural land. Using ten different scenarios ranging from the average American diet to a purely vegan one, a team led by scientists from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University estimated that agricultural land in the contiguous U.S. could have the capacity to feed up to 800 million people—twice what can be supported based on current average diets.
The researchers found that a vegetarian diet that includes dairy products could feed the most people from the area of land available. The study, published online in Elementa on July 21/22, is the first to calculate U.S. agricultural land needed for different dietary scenarios.
“Dietary choices can influence the ability of agriculture to meet our need for food,” said lead author Christian Peters, Ph.D., associate professor at the Friedman School. “Our approach challenges the 20th century emphasis on increasing yield and production. Improving crop yields remains vitally important, but it is not the only way to increase the number of people fed per acre. Our aim is to identify potential agricultural-sustainability strategies by addressing both food consumption and production.”
Peters and his colleagues, including researchers from the Friedman School, Cornell University and Syracuse University, chose ten dietary scenarios that were comparable nutritionally, but varied by the sources of protein. Eight of the diets complied with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. A baseline diet represented the country’s current food consumption—higher in meats, grains, fats and sweeteners than the other dietary scenarios. In this baseline diet, roughly 80 percent of available cropland was used to grow crops for animal feed, such as hay, while the other 20 percent was devoted to fruits, vegetables and grains for human consumption.
Reposted from http://now.tufts.edu/news-releases/us-land-capacity-feeding-people-could...