Food In Canada


Not enough fruits, vegetables grown to feed the planet

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 healthy diet 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 diet, 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 protein.”

Kristy Nudds

Editor, Food In Canada
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6 Comments » for Not enough fruits, vegetables grown to feed the planet
  1. Brett says:

    This is why people stop listening to scientists – they continue to paint themselves into a corner. First we eat too much meat, then it’s too much grain… but how much grazing land or grain land would actually grow vegetables and fruit? And aren’t you the same people who thought biofuel was such a great idea and converted most of the Great Plains over to producing ethanol?

    • Aaron Johnson says:

      People stop listening to scientists because most people are too ignorant to understand what scientists are saying based on an evolving understanding of nutrition and agricultural economics. If scientists don’t have a complete understanding of a particular subject on day one, that doesn’t mean they are wrong. It means they have learned something new.

      The philosopher Karl Popper spent his entire career discussing this ignorance of science and the scientific method. Sorting out complex findings in a complex world takes time.

      In this particular case, scientists are observing and comparing a variety of experimental models in thousands of agricultural systems around the world…over time, figuring out which ones are succeeding and which are collapsing

  2. David Ward says:

    Too many people.

  3. Marc says:

    This is why we need more CO2 in the atmosphere!!
    All plant life grows much faster when CO2 has been at levels beyond 1,000 ppm. Many times in earth’s history CO2 was well beyond 3,000 ppm and those periods were very strong greening periods on earth.
    Politically dominated funding of science destroys the objectivity basis of “science”.
    Fact: CO2 is not a pollutant…it feeds plants.
    Fact: Water vapour is a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2 and exists in the atmosphere at levels between 2% & 4%, whereas the weaker greenhouse gas CO2 exists at only 0.04%…its a trace gas!! Effect of changing from 0.03% to 0.04% is only a change of 0.01%, which is quantitavely not significant. Water vapour varies between 2% & 4% regularly.
    Fact: humans are contributing to pollution on earth.
    Climate Change Policies: Attacking CO2 and working to reduce contribution of CO2 is chasing a red herring, when many other forms of pollution pose far greater risk to humanity.

  4. Joseph Woo says:

    There are too many people in this world to feed. What we need is better population control

  5. Avery says:

    If people were willing to pay what it cost farmers to produce fruits and vegetables there would be plenty for everyone. The best land in North America feeds ethanol plants with a majority of its acres not high quality fruits and vegetables as it easily could.
    This is not an accessibility problem, it is a cheap food policy problem, most of the fresh produce in our stores comes from countries where very cheap labor is available. Produce production in eastern Canada is at risk of going away due to increased labour and an inability to compete with free trade and Mexico.
    It’s a small group of consumers that are willing to pay the price to buy local in a large store, when they see the price tag.

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