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The American diet is unsustainable, study shows

"One of the 21st century's great challenges is to develop diets that are both healthy for our bodies and sustainable for the planet," said researcher Evan Fraser.

By Brooks Hays
The American diet is unsustainable, study shows
The meat-heavy diet of North Americans isn't sustainable. Photo by majeczka/Shutterstock

Aug. 9 (UPI) -- Too much food, not enough land -- that's the American diet.

According to new research, if the rest of the world adhered to the United States Department of Agriculture's dietary guidelines, it would require another giga-hectare of land -- a plot of farmland roughly the size of Canada.

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The research, published this week in the journal PLOS One, is only the latest reminder that America's eating habits are unsustainable.

"The data shows that we would require more land than what we have if we adopt these guidelines," Madhur Anand, director of the Global Ecological Change and Sustainability Lab at the University of Guelph in Canada, said in a news release.

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Ironically, if more Americans adopted the dietary recommendations of the USDA, the United States would reduce its agricultural footprint. The same holds for most of the Western Hemisphere.

However, if people living in the Eastern Hemisphere followed American dietary guidelines, the pressure on agricultural land would be untenable.

One of the most obvious problems with the American diet is the prevalence of beef, pork and poultry. Nearly 80 percent of Earth's agricultural lands are currently used to support livestock.

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And while productivity gains, increased crop yields, could alleviate some of the pressure on Earth's acreage, the world's population continues to grow. As the economies of developing nations continue to grow, it's likely the demand for inefficient food products like ribeyes and pork chops will increase. Global meat production and consumption has risen rapidly in recent decades.

Researchers say scientists and policy makers around the world need to think more broadly -- and with an eye for the long-term -- about the future of human food systems.

"One of the 21st century's great challenges is to develop diets that are both healthy for our bodies and sustainable for the planet," said Evan Fraser, director of the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph.

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