Nutritional and greenhouse gas impacts of removing animals from US agriculture

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As a major contributor to agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it has been suggested that reducing animal agriculture or consumption of animal-derived foods may reduce GHGs and enhance food security. Because the total removal of animals provides the extreme boundary to potential mitigation options and requires the fewest assumptions to model, the yearly nutritional and GHG impacts of eliminating animals from US agriculture were quantified. Animal-derived foods currently provide energy (24% of total), protein (48%), essential fatty acids (23-100%), and essential amino acids (34-67%) available for human consumption in the United States. The US livestock industry employs 1.6 x 10(6) people and accounts for $31.8 billion in exports. Livestock recycle more than 43.2 x 10(9) kg of human-inedible food and fiber processing byproducts, converting them into human-edible food, pet food, industrial products, and 4 x 10(9) kg of N fertilizer. Although modeled plants-only agriculture produced 23% more food, it met fewer of the US population's requirements for essential nutrients. When nutritional adequacy was evaluated by using least-cost diets produced from foods available, more nutrient deficiencies, a greater excess of energy, and a need to consume a greater amount of food solids were encountered in plants-only diets. In the simulated system with no animals, estimated agricultural GHG decreased (28%), but did not fully counterbalance the animal contribution of GHG (49% in this model). This assessment suggests that removing animals from US agriculture would reduce agricultural GHG emissions, but would also create a food supply incapable of supporting the US population's nutritional requirements.

livestock, food, greenhouse gases, agriculture, food security