Not enough fruits, vegetables grown to feed the planet, study reveals

October 25, 2018, University of Guelph
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

If everyone on the planet wanted to eat a healthy diet, there wouldn't be enough fruit and vegetables to go around, according to a new University of Guelph study.

A team of researchers compared global agricultural production with nutritionists' consumption recommendations and found a drastic mismatch.

"We simply can't all adopt a under the current global agriculture system," said study co-author Prof. Evan Fraser, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security and director of U of G's Arrell Food Institute. "Results show that the global system currently overproduces grains, fats and sugars, while production of fruits and vegetables and, to a smaller degree, protein is not sufficient to meet the nutritional needs of the current population."

Published in the journal PLOS ONE, the study calculated the number of servings per person on the planet for each food group based on the Harvard University's "Healthy Eating Plate" guide, which recommends that half of our diet consist of fruits and vegetables; 25 per cent, whole grains; and 25 per cent, protein, fat and dairy.

Researchers calculated how much land is currently used for farming and how much would be needed if everyone followed the nutritional recommendations. They then projected those numbers for 2050, when the global population is expected to reach 9.8 billion.

They found that we now produce 12 servings of grains per person instead of the recommended eight; five servings of fruits and vegetables instead of 15; three servings of oil and fat instead of one; three servings of protein instead of five; and four servings of sugar instead of none.

"What we are producing at a global level is not what we should be producing according to nutritionists," said Fraser, whose co-authors include Krishna KC, research scientist in the Department of Geography, Environment and Geomatics, Profs. Nigel Raine and Madhur Anand, School of Environmental Sciences, and Prof. Malcolm Campbell, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.

Because carbohydrates are relatively easy to produce and can feed many people, developing countries focus on growing grains, said KC, lead author of the study.

He said developed countries have subsidized grain and corn production for decades in order to become self-sufficient and to establish global leadership in their production. These countries have also spent far more money on research and innovation for these crops than for fruits and vegetables.

"Also fat, sugar and salt are tasty and are what we humans crave, so we have a real hunger for these foods," said KC. "All of these factors combined have resulted in a world system that is really overproducing these types of foods."

The study found that adopting a more nutritious diet is not only good for us but also good for the planet.

"If we do switch to nutritious diets, we would see a drop in the amount of land required to feed our growing population," said KC.

The researchers also found that shifting production to match nutritional dietary guidelines would require 50 million fewer hectares of arable land, because fruits and vegetables take less land to grow than grain, sugar and fat.

But to achieve this decrease, consumers would need to eat less meat, and the agri-food sector would have to produce more plant proteins.

"Major players in the protein industry are investing in alternative protein options such as plant-based proteins, and consumers are taking advantage of the recent increase in alternative protein options hitting the market," said Fraser.

Without any change, feeding 9.8 billion people will require 12 million more hectares of arable land and at least one billion more hectares of pasture land, said Fraser.

"Feeding the next generation is one of the most pressing challenges facing the 21st century. For a growing population, our calculations suggest that the only way to eat a nutritionally balanced , save land and reduce greenhouse gas emission is to consume and produce more fruits and vegetables as well as transition to diets higher in plant-based ."

Explore further: North American diets require more land than we have, study says

More information: Krishna Bahadur KC et al, When too much isn't enough: Does current food production meet global nutritional needs?, PLOS ONE (2018). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0205683

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17 comments

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Old_C_Code
1 / 5 (4) Oct 25, 2018
It's lucky people don't like vegetables much. :)
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (4) Oct 25, 2018
"We simply can't all adopt a healthy diet under the current global agriculture system"

The proper perspective should be:

"There are currently too many people to feed properly under the current global agriculture system"

-which begs the even more proper perspective:

"As long as the influence of religion on the world is allowed to continue, there will be too many people to feed properly under any conceivable global agriculture system"

-But the proper perspective is not the politically correct perspective. Yet.
cantdrive85
1.7 / 5 (6) Oct 25, 2018
Blotto, you could put your money where your mouth is and step up to do what you insist in the right thing to do, find an overlook in Yosemite and take a flying leap. Do your part and stop blaming others.
howhot3
4 / 5 (4) Oct 25, 2018
The climate change deniers have decided to take up the cause of the lowly vegetable. Oh, woe is the lowly vegetable they claim. What a bunch of goons.
Old_C_Code
5 / 5 (1) Oct 26, 2018
howhot: You're an unaccomplished angry fool.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 26, 2018
Blotto, you could put your money where your mouth is and step up to do what you insist in the right thing to do, find an overlook in Yosemite and take a flying leap. Do your part and stop blaming others
Oh hey I hear yosemite's topology was created by giant electric tornados. Is that true? Is it true that your faulty cognition might span a range of subjects perhaps?
StudentofSpiritualTeaching
5 / 5 (1) Oct 27, 2018

"As long as the influence of religion on the world is allowed to continue, there will be too many people to feed properly under any conceivable global agriculture system"

-But the proper perspective is not the politically correct perspective. Yet.


You hit the nail on its head. I had a few days ago the chance to ask a question to Liu Zhenmin, head of UN's Department overseeing besides economic matters the production of global population statistics and (consistently too optimistic) forecasts. I wanted to hear, why nations keep ignoring the root cause of all misery unfolding in front of our eyes, and don't apply tried and proven family size policy approaches. After some diplomatic jargon about national sovereignty he confessed that the true obstacle is of a religious nature.
Thorium Boy
1.3 / 5 (3) Oct 27, 2018
We need people to sicken and die. Unless you want to be knee-deep in them and eating Soylent Green only.
StudentofSpiritualTeaching
1 / 5 (2) Oct 27, 2018
We need people to sicken and die. Unless you want to be knee-deep in them and eating Soylent Green only.

I am with you on the urgency, but watch out what you are asking for. There are credible predictions that the first wave of "effective" interventions will be secretly deployed biological weapons, ordered by individual global governments which panic. This is not farfetched, as research is already at that stage. Watch out for future years with mysterious lethal flue outbreaks and alike. In other words: high time for ethical persons to wake up and care for measures that are humane but actually working: a global family policy that demands a stop after 3 children. And as emergency measure for at least 100-200 years alternating cycles of 7 years without child birth following 7 years with these permitted.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Oct 27, 2018
We need people to sicken and die
Even sick people can reproduce. Thanos snapped his fingers and poof! half of everybody in the universe died. But nobody informed him about the tropical human repro rate which can double population numbers in 20 years or less.

So meh.

Thanos should've killed half the species in the universe. Niches take much longer to repopulate.

Unless you change the repro rate itself, either culturally or biologically, then mass deaths have no impact whatsoever on overpopulation.

Virulent religionist cultures are the enemy, not the people. These cultures are what must be destroyed.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Oct 27, 2018
Dan Browns book Inferno speculated on an engineered virus that would sterilize 1/3 the earth's people. This idea was incidentally left out of the movie which demonstrates what a delicate topic overpopulation is. Sterilization was random, and continued to infect future generations.

An interesting possibility is to artificially trigger the genes responsible for seasonal reproduction. The farther north a species resides, the more seasonal its reproduction becomes, and so this tendency must lie dormant and may be triggered epigenetically. Neanderthal was probably seasonal which is why they were overwhelmed and extincted by us cromags.

If humans could be transformed from a tropical species into a temperate one then perhaps overpopulation would no longer plague us. But we would still have to subdue the religions which would try anything they could to circumvent it.
deksman2
not rated yet Oct 27, 2018
So, the fact that the world actively throws away nearly 50% of grown produce because it doesn't conform to the industry aesthetic standards and/or is actually given to animals in the first place (among other things, over 90% of soya we grow goes to livestock, not humans) never entered these people's minds?

Or how about the fact that in those poor countries where the local populations are 'reliant on meat' the animals they eat have to eat something.
So where is that food coming from?
Where do the animals come from?
I mean, its all nice and well if they have the infrastructure of growing and killing animals, but that just means they are too uneducated to understand they could have converted those animal farms into say vertical hydroponics and aeroponics systems that would be fully automated... for which technology and resources existed since 1974 to boot.

cantdrive85
1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 27, 2018
It's sad to see the Nazis and eugenicists putting forth their views in this thread. If they only took their own advice and kill themselves the world would be a much better place.

Oh hey I hear yosemite's topology was created by giant electric tornados

Well it certainly wasn't produced by the moronic suggestion of being carved by glaciers.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 27, 2018
Well it certainly wasn't produced by the moronic suggestion of being carved by glaciers
Or maybe poor people nibbled on it for a million years. Didya think of that sparky?

Hey did you know that even nazis believed in reproductive aggression? Yup they used to award mothers the 'mutterkreutz' for every little soldat they pumped out. But truth is, even though the first world war killed off a fair number of fighting age germans and Russians, only a gen later there was enough again to wage an even larger one.

But then abortion was invented and the growth rate became manageable. No more war, in the west at least.

You like happy endings dont you? Sparky?
szore88
1.2 / 5 (5) Oct 27, 2018
No religion. We should let a bunch of amoral "scientists" tell us all how to live. Yeah, that's great!
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 27, 2018
No religion. We should let a bunch of amoral "scientists" tell us all how to live. Yeah, that's great!
Religious morality is morality of the tribe. We're good, you're bad.

The world has had enough of your morality. Your bigotry. Your misogyny. Your desire for this world to end.
StudentofSpiritualTeaching
1 / 5 (1) Oct 27, 2018
The 3 groups "religious persons", "scientists" and "moral, ethical, peaceful, truly humane, loving etc. persons" are all overlapping. However, for fulfilling the purpose of life, that is maximizing one's own and as secondary and dependent goal everybody else's evolutionary progress journey (perfecting group 3 values), it is hindering to be constrained by a futile orientation sought in un-reality in the form of a belief dogma, be that political, weird philosophical, religious, sectarian, racist or otherwise. Our only meaningful guidance is to be found in reality and its truth. It takes exploration, recognition, knowing, experiencing, living through that and ultimately reaching the essence of wisdom.

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