Grow plants, feed millions

Lettuce growing

New research suggests that if the desire was there, this country could grow food to feed over 700 million people — by focusing on plants. That could meet the needs of most of the world’s hungry population.

If U.S. farmers took all the land currently devoted to raising cattle, pigs and chickens and used it to grow plants instead, they could sustain more than twice as many people as they do now, according to a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Imagine an area of land that can produce 100 grams of edible protein from plants. If you take that same amount of land and use it to produce eggs instead, you would end up with only 60 grams of edible protein — an “opportunity food loss” of 40%, the study authors found.

Curious Cows

And that’s the best-case scenario. If that land were used to raise chickens, it would produce 50 grams of protein in the form of poultry. If it were devoted to dairy cows, it would provide 25 grams of protein in the form of milk products. If that land became a home for pigs, they would provide 10 grams of protein in the form of pork. And if you put cattle there, you’d get just 4 grams of protein in the form of beef. All these calculations account for the raising of the crops needed to feed the relevant animals. It seems that animals are actually food factories in reverse.

When we’re thinking of the stress on land use in this region, it’s good to know that in the country as a whole, we have plenty of capacity to feed millions, if we could just stop feeding so much to farm animals.