Giving Compass' Take:

· By using food supply data from the U.N Food and Agricultural Organization, a group of French researchers was able to determine where humans rank on the food chain: right in the middle.

· How does this information provide an opportunity to address problems like food security, obesity, and malnutrition? What about the environmental costs of the agricultural industry? 

· Learn more about the food system, the environment, and the economy.

It’s a platitude that we’ve all heard dozens of times, whether to justify our treatment of other species or simply to celebrate a carnivorous lifestyle: humans are the top of the food chain.

Ecologists, though, have a statistical way of calculating a species’ trophic level—its level, or rank, in a food chain. And interestingly enough, no one ever tried to rigorously apply this method to see exactly where humans fall.

Until, that is, a group of French researchers recently decided to use food supply data from the U.N Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) to calculate human tropic level (HTL) for the first time. Their findings, published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences, might be a bit deflating for anyone who’s taken pride in occupying the top position.

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the score of a primary producer (a plant) and 5 being a pure apex predator (a animal that only eats meat and has few or no predators of its own, like a tiger, crocodile or boa constrictor), they found that based on diet, humans score a 2.21—roughly equal to an anchovy or pig. Their findings confirm common sense: We’re omnivores, eating a mix of plants and animals, rather than top-level predators that only consume meat.

Read the full article about the food chain by Joseph Stromberg at Smithsonian Magazine.