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The fast-growing economies of China and India are driving a global increase in meat consumption, cancelling out decreases elsewhere, according to a comprehensive study of global food consumption.

The work, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, takes a detailed look at what people eat, as well as trends from one country to the next. It is also the first time that researchers have calculated humanity’s trophic level, a metric used in ecology to position species in the food chain.

The metric puts plants and algae, which make their own food, at trophic level 1. Rabbits, which eat plants, occupy level 2. Foxes, which eat herbivores, sit at trophic level 3. Cod, a fish that eats other fish, claims level 4. Polar bears and orcas, which have few or no predators and eat other mammals with gusto, hold the top positions — levels up to 5.5.

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humans carnivorous

Map of the median human trophic level from 2005 to 2009. Darker-colored areas are those with higher levels | S. Bonhommeau, PNAS
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