Culturing mealworms to produce animal protein suitable for human consumption requires less land and emits less greenhouse gas than the production of milk, chicken, pork or beef. Energy consumption during the whole mealworm production chain is higher than that for milk or chicken, but about the same as that for pork.
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These are the conclusions from experiments carried out by researchers at Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR. They are the first to perform such measurements. Their findings have been published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.
Livestock farming takes up about 70% of the world’s available agricultural land and is responsible for around 15% of greenhouse gas emissions. The amount of animal protein needed for human consumption worldwide is expected to increase by 70 to 80% between now and 2050. The Wageningen University researchers state in their article that land availability is an important factor in discussions on how to feed the world population in a sustainable manner. In terms of land use, their research demonstrates that cultivating mealworms may be a more sustainable activity than producing milk or chicken meat, pork and beef.
It seems no other experiments have ever been carried out to prove that edible insects are a sustainable source of animal protein. That is why Wageningen University researchers subjected the mealworm (beetle larvae) production chain to a life cycle assessment (LCA). This involved quantifying greenhouse gas production, energy consumption and land area requirement during the whole production chain. The collected data were then compared with those from the production chains of the more usual animal protein sources, namely chickens, pigs and cattle.