Energy and protein feed-to-food conversion efficiencies in the US and potential food security gains from dietary changes

A. Shepon, G. Eshel, E. Noor, R. Milo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Feeding a growing population while minimizing environmental degradation is a global challenge requiring thoroughly rethinking food production and consumption. Dietary choices control food availability and natural resource demands. In particular, reducing or avoiding consumption of low production efficiency animal-based products can spare resources that can then yield more food. In quantifying the potential food gains of specific dietary shifts, most earlier research focused on calories, with less attention to other important nutrients, notably protein. Moreover, despite the well-known environmental burdens of livestock, only a handful of national level feed-to-food conversion efficiency estimates of dairy, beef, poultry, pork, and eggs exist. Yet such high level estimates are essential for reducing diet related environmental impacts and identifying optimal food gain paths. Here we quantify caloric and protein conversion efficiencies for US livestock categories. We then use these efficiencies to calculate the food availability gains expected from replacing beef in the US diet with poultry, a more efficient meat, and a plant-based alternative. Averaged over all categories, caloric and protein efficiencies are 7%-8%. At 3% in both metrics, beef is by far the least efficient. We find that reallocating the agricultural land used for beef feed to poultry feed production can meet the caloric and protein demands of ≈120 and ≈140 million additional people consuming the mean American diet, respectively, roughly 40% of current US population.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105002
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number10
StatePublished - 4 Oct 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • food security
  • livestock
  • sustainability


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