Food Waste & Land Use from Animal Agriculture vs. Plant-Based Foods

Land Use from Animal Agriculture
Iva Dimitrova
Sustainability Content Writer | LinkedIn

Iva is a certified content writer and sustainability impact analyst. Her focus is conservation of environment and biodiversity, clean technology, climate change, vegan lifestyle and active living. Additionally, she is a certified aerobics instructor.

According to the Beyond Meat Website, a standard Beyond Burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46% less energy, and has 99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use than a quarter-pound beef burger.

After learning about this statistic, we wanted to learn if plant-based diets were more sustainable across the board. So we were inspired to research more about the sustainability of a plant-based diet vs. a meat diet when it comes to land use and food waste.

Plant-Based Vs. Meat Diet Sustainability

Looking at history and land-use data, 1000 years ago only 4% of the world’s ice-free and non-barren land area was used for farming (source).

However, nowadays 26% of the Planet’s habitable land is used for livestock grazing and 33% of croplands are used for livestock feed production (source).

Having the world’s population growing rapidly, the tension is on farmers to find new land to cultivate.

Land Use for Animal Agriculture

How Much Land Does Animal Agriculture Use?

Animal agriculture is one of the key drivers of land-use change.

13 billion hectares of forest area are lost each year due to land conversion for pastures or cropland. This has negative effect on regional soil fertility, water availability and biodiversity (source).

20% of the Earth’s land area was degraded between 2000 and 2015 (source), mainly due to intensified animal density per area.

Data provided by UN FAO shows that the 11 million square kilometers used for crops, excluding feed, supply more protein and calories for the global population than the almost 4 times larger area, 40 million kilometers, used for livestock (fig.1) (source).

While beef production requires 30 million square km of land, nearly 60% of the world’s agricultural land, it accounts for less than 2% of the world’s calories supply (source).

Land use for food production

Image source: Our World in Data.

How Much Food Waste is a Result of Animal Agriculture?

Globally, around one-third of all food produced is wasted or lost within the food chain, from production to consumption (source).

However, consumption of resource-intensive food items instead of equally nutritious alternatives can also be considered as food loss.

The opportunity food losses of beef, pork, dairy, poultry and eggs are 96%, 90%, 75%, 50% and 40% respectively. Hence, plant-based replacement diet can produce 2 fold to 20 fold more nutritionally similar food per cropland (source, p1).

The world population is expected to rise to almost 10 billion people by 2050 (source), boosting the animal agriculture demand.

However, study by Lancaster University states that current crop yield could provide nutritious food for the projected 2050 population growth, but only if we make dietary changes.

Status quo, in 2050 a 119% rise in edible crops grown would be required (source).

Study by University of Oxford stated that if everyone eliminated beef form their diets, global land use could drop by 76% (source), freeing up land for crop production and taking pressure off the world’s tropic forests.Land use per 100 grams

Image source: Our World in Data.

In summary, a shift towards a more plant-centric diet is essential for sustaining the world natural resources and providing a healthy environment for future generations.

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