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How much food are we losing, and how can we feed all of humanity over time 

Researchers from the Weizmann Institute and their research partners have found a new way to quantify "alternative food loss" - they estimate that in the United States alone, if the resources dedicated to the production of animal food were invested in the production of plant food, approximately 350 million more mouths could be fed. "A preference for plant-based food can produce more food than all the food that is wasted in the world for various reasons," says Dr. Alon Shpon

soybean field Source: United Soybean Board.
soybean field source: United Soybean Board.

About a third of the food produced in the world for human consumption is thrown away or goes down the drain in other ways. However, a much larger amount of food is "wasted" due to eating habits that involve inefficient use of natural resources. In a new study published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the American Academy of Sciences (PNAS), scientists from the Weizmann Institute and their research partners found a new way to define and quantify "alternative food loss", inspired by the economic concept "alternative cost" (alternative loss cost), which refers to the cost of choosing a certain alternative at the expense of other alternatives.

Alternative food loss is caused, for example, as a result of using agricultural land to produce animal food instead of plant alternatives which are nutritionally equivalent. The scientists estimate that in the United States alone, if the resources devoted to the production of animal food were invested in the production of plant food, it would be possible to feed about 350 million more mouths - more than the entire population of the United States. "Actually, preferring plant foods can produce more food than all the food that is wasted in the world for various reasons," says Dr. Alon Shpon, who conducted the research in the laboratory of Prof. Ron Milo in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, in collaboration with Prof. Gideon Eshel from Bard College in the United States The Alliance and Dr. Elad Noor from the Zurich Institute of Technology.

The scientists compared the resources needed to produce five main types of animal food - beef, pork, dairy products, chicken and eggs - with the resources needed to produce plant food of similar nutritional value in terms of protein, number of calories and composition of vitamins and minerals. They found that replacing animal food production with plant food can yield two to 20 times more protein per unit area.

Dr. Alon Shpon (left) and Prof. Ron Milo. Source: Weizmann Institute.
Dr. Alon Shpon (left) and Prof. Ron Milo. Source: Weizmann Institute.

The most dramatic results were obtained for beef. The scientists compared this meat production to the cultivation of edible plants that can provide, jointly and in the right proportions, a similar nutritional profile: soybeans, potatoes, sugar cane, peanuts and garlic. It turned out that in the same area of ​​land from which it is possible to produce, for example, 100 grams of protein from a mixture ("cocktail") of these plants, it is possible to produce only 4 grams of protein from beef. In other words, the use of agricultural land for beef production instead of growing plants leads to a loss of alternative food at a rate of 96% per unit of land.

The scientists also measured the rate of loss in other types of animal food and calculated a loss of about 90% for pork, 75% for dairy products, 50% for chicken and 40% for eggs - much more than the rate of food that is thrown away for various reasons. Prof. Milo says: "We must take into account the alternative cost of food if we want to ensure the nutritional security of the global population. A change - even a slight one - in eating habits, such as switching from consuming beef to consuming chicken meat, can have a huge impact."

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