Farmers could feed 4 billion more people if they stopped producing animal feed and biofuels and only grew crops for human consumption. That's the conclusion of a graduate research assistant at the University of Minnesota.
"If you look at all of the calories we produce on croplands in the U.S., only 34 percent of those calories actually become food, said Emily Cassidy. "We could feed three times more people effectively if we changed the kinds of crops we were growing."
Researchers tallied the crops grown for humans, animals and biofuels and found two-thirds of calories produced in the U.S. go to animal feed while 12 percent end up as food for humans.
Beef cattle are the least-efficient animals at converting calories and protein in grain to meat. If people gave up beef, Cassidy calculated that current crops would produce enough food for more than 350 million people. A non-meat diet that included milk, eggs, and cheese, would provide enough food for more than 800 million people.
Even a shift away from beef, to chicken and pork, would free up calories that could be eaten by humans, she said.
"If we redirected feed away from grain-fed beef cattle to poultry and pork instead, that would increase the efficiency of those feed calories, and we would get more food back in the conversion process," Cassidy said. "We would actually get a lot more poultry and pork from that increase in efficiency."