skip to main content

Title: Biodiversity effects of food system sustainability actions from farm to fork
Diet shifts and food waste reduction have the potential to reduce the land and biodiversity footprint of the food system. In this study, we estimated the amount of land used to produce food consumed in the United States and the number of species threatened with extinction as a result of that land use. We predicted potential changes to the biodiversity threat under scenarios of food waste reduction and shifts to recommended healthy and sustainable diets. Domestically produced beef and dairy, which require vast land areas, and imported fruit, which has an intense impact on biodiversity per unit land, have especially high biodiversity footprints. Adopting the Planetary Health diet or the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)–recommended vegetarian diet nationwide would reduce the biodiversity footprint of food consumption. However, increases in the consumption of foods grown in global biodiversity hotspots both inside and outside the United States, especially fruits and vegetables, would partially offset the reduction. In contrast, the USDA-recommended US-style and Mediterranean-style diets would increase the biodiversity threat due to increased consumption of dairy and farmed fish. Simply halving food waste would benefit global biodiversity more than half as much as all Americans simultaneously shifting to a sustainable diet. Combining food more » waste reduction with the adoption of a sustainable diet could reduce the biodiversity footprint of US food consumption by roughly half. Species facing extinction because of unsustainable food consumption practices could be rescued by reducing agriculture's footprint; diet shifts and food waste reduction can help us get there. « less
; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. The recent decade has witnessed an increase in irrigated acreage in the southeast United States due to the shift in cropping patterns, climatic conditions, and water availability. Peanut, a major legume crop cultivated in Georgia, Southeast United States, has been a staple food in the American household. Regardless of its significant contribution to the global production of peanuts (fourth largest), studies related to local or regional scale water consumption in peanut production and its significant environmental impacts are scarce. Therefore, the present research contributes to the water footprint of peanut crops in eight counties of Georgia and its potential ecological impacts. The impact categories relative to water consumption (water depletion—green and blue water scarcity) and pesticide use (water degradation—potential freshwater ecotoxicity) using crop-specific characterization factors are estimated for the period 2007 to 2017 at the mid-point level. These impacts are transformed into damages to the area of protection in terms of ecosystem quality at the end-point level. This is the first county-wise quantification of the water footprint and its impact assessment using ISO 14046 framework in the southeast United States. The results suggest inter-county differences in water consumption of crops with higher blue water requirements than green and grey water.more »According to the water footprint analysis of the peanut crop conducted in this study, additional irrigation is recommended in eight Georgia counties. The mid-point level impact assessment owing to water consumption and pesticide application reveals that the potential freshwater ecotoxicity impacts at the planting and growing stages are higher for chemicals with high characterization factors regardless of lower pesticide application rates. Multiple regression analysis indicates blue water, yield, precipitation, maximum surface temperature, and growing degree days are the potential factors influencing freshwater ecotoxicity impacts. Accordingly, a possible impact pathway of freshwater ecotoxicity connecting the inventory flows and the ecosystem quality is defined. This analysis is helpful in the comparative environmental impact assessments for other major crops in Georgia and aids in water resource management decisions. The results from the study could be of great relevance to the southeast United States, as well as other regions with similar climatic zones and land use patterns. The assessment of water use impacts relative to resource availability can assist farmers in determining the timing and layout of crop planting.« less
  2. ABSTRACT Background

    Plant-based diets may help improve measures of body fat, blood cholesterol, glucose metabolism, and inflammation. However, limited evidence suggests that the health effects of reducing animal products may depend on the quality of plant-based foods consumed as caloric replacements.


    This study examined how temporarily restricting consumption of meat, dairy, and egg (MDE) products for religious purposes influences cardiometabolic health biomarkers and whether any effects of MDE restriction on biomarkers are modified by concurrent shifts in calories, fish, and distinct plant-based foods.


    This study followed a sample of 99 individuals in the United States with varying degrees of adherence to Orthodox Christian (OC) guidance to abstain from MDE products during Lent, the 48-d period prior to Easter. Dietary composition was estimated from FFQs and 7-d food records; measures of body fat, blood lipids, glucose metabolism, and inflammation were collected prior to and at the end of Lent.


    Each serving decrease in MDE products was associated with an average −3.7% (95% CI: −5.5%, −2.0%; P < 0.0001) and −3.6% (95% CI: −5.8%, −1.3%; P = 0.003) change in fasting total and LDL blood cholesterol, respectively, which were partly explained by minor weight loss. However, the total/HDL cholesterol ratio did not significantly decrease due to anmore »average −3.2% (95% CI: −5.8%, −0.6%; P = 0.02) change in HDL cholesterol. No associations between MDE restrictions and shifts in measures of body fat, glucose, insulin, or C-reactive protein were observed. The data could not provide evidence that changes in cardiometabolic health biomarkers in relation to MDE restriction were modified by concurrent shifts in calories, fish, or plant-based foods.


    Temporary MDE restrictions practiced by this sample of OCs in the United States during Lent had minimal effects on cardiometabolic disease risk factors. Further research among larger samples of OCs is needed to understand how nutritionally distinct and complex combinations of plant-based foods may modify the health effects of religious fasting from MDE products.

    « less
  3. Although vegetables are important for healthy diets, there are concerns about the sustainability of food systems that provide them. For example, half of fresh-market vegetables sold in the United States (US) are produced in California, leading to negative impacts associated with transportation. In Iowa, the focus of this study, 90% of food is imported from outside the state. Previous life cycle assessment (LCA) studies indicate that food consumption patterns affect global warming potential (GWP), with animal products having more negative impacts than vegetables. However, studies focused on how GWP, energy, and water use vary between food systems and vegetable types are less common. The purpose of this study was to examine these environmental impacts to inform decisions to buy locally or grow vegetables in the Midwest. We used a life cycle approach to examine three food systems (large-, mid-, and small-scale) and 18 vegetables commonly grown in/near Des Moines, Iowa. We found differences in GWP, energy, and water use (p ≤ 0.001 for each) for the three food systems with the large-scale scenario producing more emissions. There were also differences among vegetables, with the highest GWP for romaine lettuce (1.92 CO2eq/kg vegetable) approximately three times that of leaf lettuce (0.65more »CO2eq/kg vegetable) at the large scale. Hotspots and tradeoffs between GWP, energy, and water use were also identified and could inform vegetable production/consumption based on carbon and water use footprints for the US Midwest.« less
  4. Abstract

    Phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) are essential nutrients for food production but their excess use in agriculture can have major social costs, particularly related to water quality degradation. Nutrient footprint approaches estimate N and P release to the environment through food production and waste management and enable linking these emissions to particular consumption patterns. Following an established method for quantifying a consumer-oriented N footprint for the United States (U.S.), we calculate an analogous P footprint and assess the N:P ratio across different stages of food production and consumption. Circa 2012, the average consumer’s P footprint was 4.4 kg P capita−1yr−1compared to 22.4 kg N capita−1yr−1for the food portion of the N footprint. Animal products have the largest contribution to both footprints, comprising >70% of the average per capita N and P footprints. The N:P ratio of environmental release based on virtual nutrient factors (kilograms N or P per kilogram of food consumed) varies considerably across food groups and stages. The overall N:P ratio of the footprints was lower (5.2 by mass) than for that of U.S. food consumption (8.6), reinforcing our finding that P is managed less efficiently than N in food production systems but more efficiently removed frommore »wastewater. While strategies like reducing meat consumption will effectively reduce both N and P footprints by decreasing overall synthetic fertilizer nutrient demands, consideration of how food production and waste treatment differentially affect N and P releases to the environment can also inform eutrophication management.

    « less
  5. Abstract

    The rapid depletion of US groundwater resources and rising number of dying wells in the Western US brings attention to the significance of groundwater governance and sustainability restrictions. However, such restrictions on groundwater withdrawals are likely to generate spillover effects causing further environmental stresses in other locations and adding to the complexity of sustainability challenges. The goal of this paper is to improve our understanding of the implications of growing global food demand for local sustainability stresses and the implications of local sustainability policies for local, regional, and global food production, land use, and prices. We employ SIMPLE-G-US (Simplified International Model of agricultural Prices, Land use, and the Environment—Gridded version for the United States) to distangle the significance or remote changes in population and income for irrigation and water resources in the US. Then we examine the local-to-global impacts of potential US groundwater sustainability policies. We find that developments in international markets are significant, as more than half of US sustainability stresses by 2050 are caused by increased commodity demand from abroad. Furthermore, a US sustainable groundwater policy can cause overseas spillovers of US production, thereby potentially contributing to environmental stresses elsewhere, even as groundwater stress in the USmore »is alleviated. These unintended consequences could include deforestation due to cropland expansion, as well as degradation in water quality due to intensification of production in non-targeted areas.

    « less