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Currently 36 percent of the food produced worldwide is used to feed animals, according to new research published in Environmental Research Letters. The study found that halving the amount of corn, soy and other grains we use for biofuel or to raise meat could feed an additional two billion people around the world. And while it might not have been mentioned, having fewer cows on the planet could substantially reduce methane emissions that contribute to climate change too.

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Even as millions of people go hungry around the globe, we continue to waste a substantial portion of our nutrients to animals and then mistakenly think that greater agricultural yield will solve the problem, Emily Cassidy, lead author of the study and environmental scientist at the University of Minnesota, United States, tells SciDev.Net.

Instead, using the food we produce to feed people could result in enough food to ensure an additional four billion won’t go completely hungry.

“Half of the protein that we produce with crops actually goes to animals for feed. We could have the right amount of protein and amino acids if we were to directly consume crops,” says Cassidy. “We are actually losing a lot of protein in the plant-animal conversion process.”

Not everyone agrees that the meat industry should be curtailed. Instead, some critics of the research suggest more needs to be done to prevent food waste rather than expect the cultural shifts that are necessary to convince people that they need less meat.

“We cannot be dogmatic about meat and dairy consumption, because a little goes a long way in terms of quality nutrients for the diet,” Barbara Burlingame from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization told the paper.

Instead, she says, “bringing food losses and waste under control, from agriculture through household and retail, will serve to relieve pressures on natural resources.”