To feed a population of 10 billion by 2050, report recommends eating more vegetables

Experts from the EAT-Lancet Commission, one of the world's most respected scientific bodies, have published a report in which they have concluded that a food model compatible with environmental care and nutritional goals would consist mostly (over 90%) of plant-based foods, which are significantly more sustainable than animal-based ones.

'Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes should double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar should be reduced by more than 50%,' says the report, while stressing that food is the most powerful lever for optimizing human health and environmental sustainability.

According to the study, if we were to base our diet on whole grains, legumes, vegetables and nuts, we would not only meet caloric demand but also be protecting our health and that of the planet.

Regions such as the Middle East and North Africa are approaching the vegetable consumption target, Latin America and the Caribbean consume adequate amounts of fruits and whole grains, and South Asia has a diet rich in legumes. Meanwhile, North Americans still have a very high consumption of red meat and dairy, considered by the study to be two of the most unsustainable foods.

A difficult gap to close

By 2050, the Earth's population is expected to reach 10 billion, a growth of 3 billion people compared with 2010 figures, which presents several critical challenges: making food production more efficient, responding to the threat of climate change and avoiding the expansion of agriculture into new primary forests.

To meet future food demand, we have a difficult gap to close: Calorie production must increase by at least 56%, and if we were to continue with the current model—still heavily dependent on animal protein—we would need 593 million hectares of land (an area almost twice the size of India) between the world's agricultural area in 2010 and the agricultural expansion projected for 2050.

Currently, nearly 80% of agricultural land is used for animal agriculture (meat, aquaculture, eggs and milk), even though these products provide only 37% of the protein and less than 20% of the calories consumed by people globally. At the same time, this industry is responsible for 56% to 58% of the greenhouse gas emissions of all food production.

This situation is incompatible with the goal of mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to keep global warming below 2°C to avoid the worst climate events. The most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that without immediate and drastic GHG reductions, limiting temperature increases will be impossible. According to another study, such a failure could threaten a third of the global food production.

Efficiency is key

Not only is our current global food system devastating our planet through agricultural land expansion and deforestation, but it is also failing in what is supposed to be its main role: feeding people. We harvest enough food to feed at least 10 billion people, but most of it is wasted in a very inefficient system.

One of the most critical aspects of food waste happens long before it reaches our plates: when we use crops to feed animals instead of people. It takes 7kg of grain to produce 1kg of beef and 4kg of grain to produce 1kg of pork. For every 100 calories of grain we feed animals, we get only about 40 new calories of milk, 22 calories of eggs, 12 of chicken, 10 of pork, or 3 of beef.

Turning the crops raised from animal feed into human feed and eliminating meat and dairy consumption would reduce global farmland use by 75% and still feed more people than our current food system.

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