Feeding humanity puts enormous environmental pressure on our planet. These pressures are unequally distributed, yet we have piecemeal knowledge of how they accumulate across marine, freshwater and terrestrial systems. Here we present global geospatial analyses detailing greenhouse gas emissions, freshwater use, habitat disturbance and nutrient pollution generated by 99% of total reported production of aquatic and terrestrial foods in 2017. We further rescale and combine these four pressures to map the estimated cumulative pressure, or ‘footprint’, of food production. On land, we find five countries contribute nearly half of food’s cumulative footprint. Aquatic systems produce only 1.1% of food but 9.9% of the global footprint. Which pressures drive these footprints vary substantially by food and country. Importantly, the cumulative pressure per unit of food production (efficiency) varies spatially for each food type such that rankings of foods by efficiency differ sharply among countries. These disparities provide the foundation for efforts to steer consumption towards lower-impact foods and ultimately the system-wide restructuring essential for sustainably feeding humanity.
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The code used for these analyses is available from GitHub76 (https://github.com/OHI-Science/global_food_pressures).
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This research was a collaborative endeavour conducted by the Global Food Systems Working Group at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California Santa Barbara. The Global Food Systems Working Group was funded by the Zegar Family Foundation. The National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at UC Santa Barbara provided invaluable infrastructural support for this work. J.T. was additionally supported by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (funding code 031B0792A). K.L.N. was supported by the Australian Research Council (DE210100606).
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Proportional contribution of each pressure to the cumulative food footprint in each country, summed across all foods. These countries collectively account for about 30% of pressure from food production (top countries are presented in Fig. 4a in the text). Stacked bars show the proportional contribution of marine (lighter colours, calculated as the Exclusive Economic Zone) and terrestrial (darker colours) pressures from all foods combined, including the high seas.
Proportional contribution of each food group to the cumulative food footprint in each country. These countries collectively account for about 30% of pressure from food production (top countries are presented in Fig. 4b in the text). Stacked bars are the proportional contribution of each major food group, including feed for livestock and aquaculture, summed for all four pressures in each country and the high seas.
Extended Data Fig. 3 Proportion of total global cumulative pressure for crops, broken down by pressure (components of each bar).
Proportional amounts are the per-unit pressures times the total global production. This includes crops for consumed primarily by humans and animal feed.
Environmental efficiency (cumulative environmental pressure per million kcal produced) for major food types. Larger values represent less efficient foods. Each point is a country (jittered for visibility), with median and interquartile range indicated by the boxes. Plots to the right show extreme positive values and are on separate scales. Feed is not included in livestock primary and secondary products or mariculture.
Environmental efficiency (cumulative environmental pressure per tonne reported production) for major food types. Larger values represent less efficient foods. Each point is a country (jittered for visibility), with median and interquartile range indicated by the boxes. Plots to the right show extreme positive values and are on separate scales. Feed is not included in livestock primary and secondary products or mariculture.
Data quality assessment of each food system and pressure scored on a scale ranging from 1–5. Data quality was assessed using a bottom-up approach, where each data source was scored on spatial resolution, spatial extent, system specificity, and temporal accuracy.
Data quality assessment breakdown for each food system, pressure, and score scored on a scale from 1–5. Data quality was assessed using a bottom-up approach, where each data source was scored on spatial resolution, spatial extent, system specificity, and temporal accuracy.
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Halpern, B.S., Frazier, M., Verstaen, J. et al. The environmental footprint of global food production. Nat Sustain 5, 1027–1039 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-022-00965-x
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