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 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.
Biodiversity effects of food system sustainability actions from farm to fork
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Article published in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems
Article published in Science of the Total Environment