Is anyone vegan? The world already produces enough plant protein


The Dutch still depend mainly on meat and dairy products for their protein intake, but enough vegetable protein is already produced around the world to feed the entire world population. With all the agricultural land available, enough beans, nuts and cereals can be produced for everyone to eat plant-based, according to calculations by Wageningen University & Research (WUR) after questions from

According to scientists, about half of all vegetable protein produced in the world ends up in animal feed. If all that corn, soy and other plants were eaten directly by people, the whole world could eat a diet as high in protein as the average Dutchman.

The production of meat and dairy products releases a lot of greenhouse gases and in the Netherlands the livestock sector is an important cause of the nitrogen problem. But according to the meat and dairy industry, many animals are still needed because there isn’t enough space to grow plant-based protein for everyone.

FrieslandCampina director Hein Schumacher, for example, recently said The Financial Times that it would take “three and a half earths” to feed the entire plant-based population of the world. asked WUR researchers to verify this. New calculations show not only that there is enough room for an all-vegetable diet, but that enough plant protein is already produced in the world.

The WUR researchers rely on figures from the UN food organization FAO. Currently, around 520 million tonnes of vegetable protein are produced per year, of which around a third is lost during harvesting, transport, in store or at the consumer’s home. The remaining 350 million tons are more than enough for the 80 grams of protein the average Dutchman consumes every day.

The “recycled diet” saves the most space

Land use actually decreases if we eat more plant-based foods, says Associate Professor Hannah van Zanten, who uses computer models to develop future farming systems. Our current diet requires about 0.17 hectares of farmland per person per day, while a vegan diet requires about 0.12 hectares. The exact numbers are uncertain, says Van Zanten, but according to her, less land is still needed for a plant-based diet.

Even better is a circular diet, in which animals are still kept that eat residual flows from agriculture, or graze on land that cannot be used for arable farming. Such a diet requires between 0.08 and 0.11 hectares per person.

There will be far fewer animals than today: people can still get around a third of their protein from meat, dairy and eggs, while the rest comes mainly from legumes, nuts and grains . Today, the average Dutchman still gets nearly two-thirds of their protein from animal products.

“In the current food system, we use a lot of agricultural land to grow food for our animals,” says Van Zanten. “If you avoid this by feeding the animals residual feeds, you need a lot less land for arable farming.”

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