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If all the food used to fatten up cows, chickens and pigs went straight to people instead, it would feed several billion more people than the food does today, according to a new study. "We've taken 10,000 years to get to the point of growing as much food as we are doing now," said Paul West, a food expert at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. "In the next four decades or so we have to figure out how to double that …. Another thing that is simultaneously occurring is that agriculture has the biggest effect on our environment." Fortunately for meat lovers, completely forgoing burgers, wings, and bacon won't be necessary. But, when weather or disease lays waste to a lot of food, crops traditionally grown for animal feed could serve as a safety valve in times of need, West said. These and a handful of other targeted strategies could provide enough new calories to meet the basic needs for more than 3 billion people, West and colleagues conclude in their paper published Thursday in the journal Science.

Feedlots in Canada are overflowing with livestock likes these cattle peering out from a pen near Iron Springs, Alberta, Thursday, Jan. 8, 2004. Rick Paskal runs three feedlots and at the moment has 40,000 head of cattle but says he can only afford to have 10,000. Canada will spend $72 million in its battle against mad cow disease over the next five years to expand its testing to 30,000 cattle, the agriculture minister said Friday. (CP PHOTO/Jeff McIntosh)JEFF MCINTOSH / CP File