Put down that burger and pick up a mealworm, because switching beef for insects could play a huge role in the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh have found that replacing half of the world’s meat with the likes of crickets and mealworms could cut farmland currently used for livestock by a third. In turn, that would considerably reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Even a small increase in eating insects could also be massively beneficial to the planet, the researchers added.
“A mix of small changes in consumer behaviour, such as replacing beef with chicken, reducing food waste and potentially introducing insects more commonly into diets, would help achieve land savings and a more sustainable food system,” Dr Peter Alexander, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences and Scotland’s Rural College, said in a statement.
The research, published in the journal Global Food Security, is the first study to compare conventional meat production with alternative sources of food, such as insects, meat alternatives like tofu, and lab-grown meat.
Insects and meat-alternatives were by far the most sustainable as they require the least energy and least land to produce. Beef was the least sustainable by a long shot. Livestock emissions account for a large portion of human-made greenhouse gas emissions, and cattle represents about 65 percent of that, according to the United Nations.
Lab-grown meat also came up short in this research. They found it was no more sustainable than chicken or eggs, requiring about the same area of land but using more energy in production. Lab-grown meat, or “cultured” meat, is often lauded as the next big thing for the meat industry and the environment alike. However, this study suggests “the benefits claimed for cultured meat may not be justified.” The whole process – from the laboratory setting to the processing of the product using sterilization and hydrolysis – ends up being no more efficient than poultry farming. It’s also pretty expensive at the current time.
Further research needs to be carried out on large-scale insect production. However, it seems like the real challenge will be convincing consumers to ditch their steaks and turn to mealworms.