Food / Science
Study: 1 billion people can be fed with a more efficient use of food resources — here’s how
Max Troell, researcher: ”This knowledge will be instrumental for, for instance, EU’s The Farm to Fork Strategy which is at the heart of the European Green Deal.”
25 Jan 2023

The war in Ukraine resulted in higher costs for food, energy, and feed resources. Max Troell is working at The Beijer Institute of ecological economics and Global Economic and Development within the Biosphere at The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and is also affiliated with the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University. According to him, it might be a glimpse of the future and should tell us all about what kind of food production systems we need to develop.

— I have always had a special focus on seafood — such as what role fish and shellfish, farmed or fished, play and can play for people and the environment, he explains. Today I work with the global food system of which seafood forms a smaller but important part. 

The latest study, published in Nature, looks at the possibility of better resource management through more efficient use of food resources and waste resources. 

— While millions around the world face the threat of famine or malnutrition, the production of feed for livestock and farmed seafood is tying up limited natural resources that could be used to produce food for people. This work, focusing on producing less wastes and making efficient use of the wastes that are being produced, is indicative of how the world needs to transform in general. This study is also much in line with my previous work that lifts the importance of having a systems perspective that embraces resource efficiency and how these are used in equitable ways. 

”About a quarter of captured fish aren’t used to feed people”

And what have you come up with?

— The departure of this study is that a third of cereal crop production is used as animal feed, and about a quarter of captured fish aren’t used to feed people but used for making fishmeal and fish oil used in animal feeds, says Troell. If adjustments are made to the feeding of livestock and farmed seafood, such as diverting food-grade feed resources to humans and utilizing waste products or by-products more efficiently as animal feeds, we could maintain production while making more food available for people. This has the potential for increasing the global food supply significantly, providing calories for up to 13% (about one billion) more people without requiring any increase in natural resource use or major dietary changes. By-products, such as sugar beet or citrus pulp, fish and livestock by-products or even crop residues, are important resources that to a larger extent could be used.

Study overview.
Max Troell.

Max Troell explains that this can also help us on our way to a circular economy.

— We are already today increasingly making use of waste resources from the food system and that is good. However, we also see an increase in certain types of food production that depend more on high-quality feed inputs — the question is if these could be used in better ways out from a global food security perspective. The present study analysed the flow of food and feed, as well as their by-products and residues. This was the first time this has been done at such a detail level globally, including from both terrestrial and aquatic systems and combined them together, he says, adding,

— This knowledge will be instrumental for, for instance, EU’s The Farm to Fork Strategy which is at the heart of the European Green Deal and includes efficient resource usage with overall objectives of making food systems fair, healthy, and environmentally friendly.

What changes do you suggest, in order to secure more food for humans, and what’s required to make them?

— The war in Ukraine has shown that systems that are energy efficient and utilize resources in efficient and equitable ways should be promoted. Dietary change and changes in food preferences, something that was only partially addressed in the paper, will also be instrumental for the transformation of the food system, says Troell. He adds:

— The world does not change dramatically just because you publish a paper. You need to continue with your research that hopefully adds to a deeper understanding of our food system and ways to improve it for increased health of the people and the planet. Engaging in various policy discussions is part of your responsibility as a scientist and I try to do that as much as possible.