Eating insects instead of beef could help tackle climate change by reducing emissions linked to livestock production, an Edinburgh University news item (HERE) says.
It cites research which suggests replacing half of the meat eaten worldwide with crickets and mealworms would cut farmland use by a third, substantially reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.
While consumers’ reluctance to eat insects may limit their consumption, even a small increase would bring benefits, the research team says. This could potentially be achieved by using insects as ingredients in some pre-packaged foods.
Using data collected primarily by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the scientists have compared the environmental impacts of conventional meat production with those of alternative sources of food. It is the first study to do so.
Researchers at Edinburgh and Scotland’s Rural College considered a scenario in which half of the current mix of animal products is replaced by insects, lab-grown meat or imitation meat.
They found that insects and imitation meat – such as soybean-based foods like tofu – are the most sustainable as they require the least land and energy to produce. Beef is by far the least sustainable, the team says.
In contrast to previous studies, lab-grown meat was found to be no more sustainable than chicken or eggs, requiring an equivalent area of land but using more energy in production.
The team, which includes scientists involved in the N8 Research Partnership’s AgriFood programme, says halving global consumption of animal products by eating more insects or imitation meat would free up 1680 million hectares of land – 70 times the size of the UK.
Similar land savings could also be made by switching from the current mix of animal products to diets higher in chicken and eggs, the team says.
They found that the land required to produce these was only marginally greater than for insects and imitation meat.
As well as being a major contributor to human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, current livestock production has other environmental impacts.
Globally, pasture covers twice the area of cropland, and livestock consume around a third of all harvested crops.
The research, published in the journal Global Food Security, was supported by the UK’s Global Food Security Programme and the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme. It was carried out in collaboration with the University of York, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research.
New Zealand futurist Robert Hickson, on his Idealog blog, has written about changing dietary habits and trends and challenges associated with traditional western food consumption.
In a recent post (HERE), he noted:
Insects aren’t yet big on fancy restaurant menus in the US. But they are a gaining popularity in Japan. The UK has at least one restaurant specialising in our invertebrate friends. And Ikea has been thinking about introducing insect meatballs for a couple of years. A Swiss supermarket is planning to sell burgers and meatballs made from mealworms from next month.
New Zealand is no stranger to edible invertebrates, if only occasionally. I couldn’t find reports of insect meals being a staple in New Zealand, but at least two companies offer gourmet arthropod treats – Crawlers and Anteater. Some other food stores offer products containing cricket flour.
Hickson further noted that lab-grown meat prices are dropping rapidly and producers of meat-free burgers “are on a PR offensive”.
And the world’s largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods, is hoping to become a major supplier of organs for human transplants.
In short, agricultural and social changes will influence why and what we farm. It obviously will influence the relevant science, too.