The report, which was published by the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, concluded that the world’s croplands could feed an additional 4 billion people if used to exclusively grow food for human consumption. It also said that even a shift from grain-intensive meat, such as feedlot beef, to chicken and pork would free up enough land to feed an additional 357 million people.
The researchers stressed they were not making “diet prescriptions or recommendations”, but that their study had demonstrated that global food security could be improved with a shift in food production patterns.
“We essentially have uncovered an astoundingly abundant supply of food for a hungry world, hidden in plain sight in the farmlands we already cultivate,” said lead author, graduate research assistant Emily Cassidy.
“Depending on the extent to which farmers and consumers are willing to change current practices, existing croplands could feed millions or even billions more people.”
In order to understand the impact that growing animal feed and biofuels were having on global food supply, Cassidy and her colleagues mapped the extent and productivity of 41 major crops between 1997 and 2003, calculating conversion efficiencies of animal feed using US Department of Agriculture (USDA) data. Grazing pastures were not included in the study.
They found that only 12% of crop calories used for animal feed were consumed by humans, while only 55% of crop calories worldwide directly nourish people, and concluded that using cropland exclusively for food consumption would boost available food calories by up to 70%.
“The good news is that we already produce enough calories to feed a few billion more people. As our planet gets more crowded or we experience disasters like droughts and pests, we can find ways of using existing croplands more efficiently,” said Cassidy.