The food system accounts for a large share of fossil fuel consumption in the United States, and energy accounts for a substantial and highly variable share of food costs. This intersection between food and energy markets suggests that public and private decisions affecting one market will have spillover effects in the other. For example, would increasing the share of population having diets that align with Federal dietary guidance reduce fossil fuel use in the U.S. food system? Would a carbon dioxide (CO2) tax improve diet quality? To address these issues, we use the most recent data available to integrate the material-flows accounting framework adopted by the United Nations Statistical Commission into the existing food-system accounting structure of the ERS Food Dollar accounts. Then, we use mathematical optimization to model healthy diets. Our research indicates that U.S. agri-food industries are more sensitive to energy price changes than nonfood industries. We find that in 2007, fossil fuels linked to U.S. food consumption produced 13.6 percent of all fossil fuel CO2 emissions economy wide. Our study of alternative diets shows there are many ways to meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. If Americans made a minimal dietary shift to eat healthy, we find food-system energy use would decrease by 3 percent. By making greater changes from current consumption, we find food systemenergy use could be reduced by as much as 74 percent. A tax on CO2 emissions from fossil fuels would increase the cost of a typical meal by an average of 1.7 percent, with estimates ranging between 0.2 and 5.4 percent.The framework for this research is foundational to a broader consideration of sustainable nutrition. For example, when considering the adequacy of future food supplies, what will potential synergies and tradeoffs be between nutritional outcomes, resource and labor requirements, food costs, and potential market externalities. Some preliminary findings are presented from this ongoing research.
Pat Canning is a Senior Economist for USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), where he studies the US and global food system with a focus onresearch that informs food policy discussions at the Federal level. He developed and manages the ERS Food Dollar data product, which annually updates answers to the question, “where do our food dollars go?” Dr.Canning was recently tasked to build a new ERS model for assessing macroeconomic impacts (e.g., jobs, GDP, farm output) of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and is also leading a transdisciplinary research team that is doing an expansive sustainable nutrition study. Dr.Canningholds a master’s degree in Agricultural and Resource Economics from the University of Maryland and a PhD in Economics from the George Washington University.