I will be interviewing Emily Cassidy on Sunday, August 23th on Atheist Talk Radio, with Mike Haubrich hosting. We’ll be talking about food, the food supply, how we’re all gonna die when the food supply runs out, how maybe to avoid or delay that, and GMOs will almost certainly come up in the conversation.

Emily is originally from Minnesota where she earned her master’s and bachelor degrees in natural resources science. She is now a research analyst at EWG, and studies the impact of agriculture on land, water, and air. She looks at ways to change the food system to yield healthier, more sustainable food. She is co-author of the influential paper “Solutions for a Cultivated Planet,” recently published in Nature, and is the inventor of new measurement technique to quantify the number of people fed per acre of cropland.

The abstract from the Nature paper:

Increasing population and consumption are placing unprecedented demands on agriculture and natural resources. Today, approximately a billion people are chronically malnourished while our agricultural systems are concurrently degrading land, water, biodiversity and climate on a global scale. To meet the world’s future food security and sustainability needs, food production must grow substantially while, at the same time, agriculture’s environmental footprint must shrink dramatically. Here we analyse solutions to this dilemma, showing that tremendous progress could be made by halting agricultural expansion, closing ‘yield gaps’ on underperforming lands, increasing cropping efficiency, shifting diets and reducing waste. Together, these strategies could double food production while greatly reducing the environmental impacts of agriculture.

Emily did this Ted Talk:

You can follow her on Twitter here: @Cassidy_Emily

I’ve written up some of Emily’s work:

The Coming Food Crisis And What To Do About It

Meat’ing future food demands

The Problem With The Global Food Supply: New Research

And here is a short list of her publications:

-Solutions for a cultivated planet, by JA Foley, N Ramankutty, KA Brauman, ES Cassidy, JS Gerber, …
Nature 478 (7369), 337–342

-Redefining Agricultural Yields: From Tonnes to People Nourished per Hectare, by ES Cassidy, PC West, JS Gerber, JA Foley Environmental Research Letters 8 (3)

-Leverage points for improving global food security and the environment, by PC West, JS Gerber, PM Engstrom, ND Mueller, KA Brauman, KM Carlson, et al. Science 345 (6194), 325–328

-Rethinking Agricultural Trade Relationships in an Era of Globalization, by GK MacDonald, KA Brauman, S Sun, KM Carlson, ES Cassidy, JS Gerber, et al., BioScience


  1. #1 David Whitlock
    August 12, 2015

    Even with unlimited food, air, water and nesting places, disease-free populations go extinct.


  2. #2 Bernard J.
    August 12, 2015

    When talking about GM food and what it can and cannot do, it would be interesting to address the importance of thermodynamics and efficiency asymptotes. A lot of people (= most…) don’t grok this, but it’s a bit like the difference that a low on the Milankovitch cycle would now make to human-caused global warming.

    And of course there are the small matters of the limits of non-food resources, and the loss of species and non-human habitat, and how all of these factors synergise.

    And +1 for David’s post. Of passing interest in this context, the behaviour of the male mice as described on p84 echoes that of the Hikikomori phenomenon in Japan…

    Finally, there is no such thing as a disease-free population in the real world, and as numbers increase the probabiity of pandemic approaches 1….

  3. #3 G
    August 13, 2015

    It’s well understood that animals multiply up to the limits of their food supply, and it’s also well understood that as any ecosystem limit is extended, a population will eventually hit another limit.

    The question is whether we want 1 billion hungry people, or whether we want to keep multiplying like Calhoun’s mice and aim for 2 to 3 billion hungry people, or do that plus expand the food supply per Cassidy and end up with only 1-1/2 to 2 billion hungry people.

    The fatal flaw with increasing poultry and pork production is that this is _exactly_ the right combination to touch off a catastrophic flu pandemic. The mechanisms for this are well known and much information can be easily found via an Ixquick search for “avian influenza.”

    Increasing the food supply solves nothing: it merely puts off the day of reckoning until a larger number are suffering. The only way forward is to decrease population and consumption levels by the most humane methods available at any given time. Consider this: the longer we wait, the fewer the options that remain, and the uglier the remaining options are.

    Understood that Cassidy’s field is agriculture rather than something else that might bear directly on overpopulation as an issue. But IMHO scientists in fields related to agriculture should be working first and foremost on methods for preserving any kind of resilient agriculture in a world enduring the effects of climate change. Otherwise we might be looking at 4 – 5 billion starving humans.

  4. […] I interviewed food supply expert Emily Cassidy on Atheist Talk Radio, Mike Huabrich hosting. You can CLICK HERE and listen to the interview. Additional background and some more links, including Emily’s Ted Talk, here. […]