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The Opportunity Cost of Animal-Based Diets Exceeds All Food Losses, Says New Study Coauthored by Bard Professor Gidon Eshel

Gidon Eshel
Image Credit: Tony Rinaldo
Extending the definition of food loss to include inefficient dietary choices, a new study quantifies the benefits of plant-based diets versus animal-based diets for food security. The study, published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), is coauthored by Bard College Research Professor Gidon Eshel. Animal based foods require more resources per unit product (gram, calorie, or gram protein) than plant-based foods. Since resources allocated to feed production for livestock yield less human food compared with what they could have yielded if they were instead used for plant-based food production, allocating resources to animal-based food production constitutes an effective food loss. Alon Shepon and colleagues quantify this “opportunity cost” by estimating the amount of food that could be produced if animal-based items were replaced by nutritionally at least comparable plant-based items in the U.S. diet.

The authors found that plant-based replacements could produce 2- to 20-fold more protein per acre than beef, pork, poultry, dairy, or eggs. The authors further estimate that replacing all animal-based products in the mean American diet with plant-based alternatives would allow increased food production sufficient to feed approximately 350 million additional people, or 110 percent of the current U.S. population. This putative added food availability handily exceeds potential food availability gains by elimination of conventional food losses, mostly spoilage, leaky supply chains, or post-retail waste.

Gidon Eshel is research professor in environmental science and physics at Bard College. He earned a BA from Haifa University and MA, MPhil, and PhD degrees from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.

More coverage at Phys.org: “Food waste: The biggest loss could be what you choose to put in your mouth”
Post Date: 03-27-2018