Implications for U.S. agriculture
Food choices by U.S. households influence the types of crops
that America's farmers grow, the prices farmers receive, and the
way in which various crops are transformed into food products.
Changes in consumer food choices are reflected in the food
marketing system and can lead to changes in the output of the farm
sector. Food markets also respond to changing food choices by
introducing new products to meet new consumer demands. ERS monitors
the effects of food consumption choices on agriculture.
A 2006 ERS report
provides one view of the potential implications for U.S.
agriculture if Americans fully changed their current consumption
patterns to meet select recommendations in the 2005 Guidelines. To meet the fruit,
vegetable, and whole-grain recommendations, ERS estimates that
domestic crop acreage would need to increase by 7.4 million
harvested acres, or 1.7percent of total U.S. cropland in 2002.
Additionally, an estimated 111 billion more pounds of milk and milk
products would be needed each year for Americans to meet the dairy
consumption recommendations. Some of this change would likely
require an increase in dairy cows, which would raise demand for
feed grains and, possibly, acreage devoted to dairy production.
Another study by ERS researchers examined how aggregate food
consumption and production levels would change if Americans were to
meet public health objectives set forth in the Surgeon General's
People 2010" compared to USDA baseline projections. To meet two
objectives-increase the percentage of the population with a healthy
weight and decrease the percentage of the population who are
obese-without changing levels of physical activity would require a
6-percent reduction in aggregate food consumption. This, in turn,
would lead to a drop in production of agricultural commodities and
reduce net returns to producers by $3.5 billion. However, if
population weight objectives are met by also increasing physical
activity, these same goals could be achieved at much less cost
($1.3 billion). Changes in agricultural activities would vary
across regions, with the largest potential changes in producer net
returns in the Corn Belt and the Lake States. (See: Johansson,
Mancino, and Joe Cooper, "The Big Picture: Production Impacts
of Reduced Obesity," Agribusiness, 22(5):1-13, 2006.)
Interactions among different agricultural commodity markets may
moderate the size of any adjustments estimated by ERS. Consumers
could substitute some products for others, depending on prices.
Farmers, who base planting decisions on expected prices, could
alternate among crops, with limitations, on the same piece of land.
Producers and processors could alter the supply of final foods,
depending on relative prices, consumer demand, and changing
Because of the size and complexity of the U.S. food system, an
almost infinite combination of foods, production methods, end uses,
and trade adjustments could work together to move diets toward the
Federal dietary recommendations. Food consumption is just one of
several components of demand for agricultural products, along with
animal feed, exports, and nonfood or industrial uses. Shifts in
food demand due to dietary change would likely result in offsetting
shifts in production, trade, and nonfood uses, which would tend to
moderate the effects on food prices and farm income in the long