January 10, 2011
Scientists in the Netherlands have discovered that insects produce significantly less greenhouse gas per kilogram of meat than cattle or pigs. Their study, published in the online journal PLoS One, suggests that a move towards insect farming could result in a more sustainable - and affordable - form of meat production.
In addition to the environmental impact of current meat production techniques, scientists believe that the inevitable increase in price as population-driven demand grows will ultimately result in traditional meat products becoming unavailable to many people around the world.
This cockroach has a high feed conversion efficiency, but isn't recommended as a food source by the researchers. Photo taken in Sabah, Malaysia by Jeremy Hance.
Researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands looked at mealworms, house crickets, migratory locusts, sun beetles, and Dubia cockroaches, and for the first time quantified the amounts of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) released per kilogram of insect meat. They found that the amounts of gases released by insects to be much smaller than those released by cattle and pigs. For instance, mealworms produce between ten and a hundred times less greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram than do pigs. Ammonia levels also declined significantly.
The scientists attributed the decrease in emissions to the insects' more efficient use of food. Because they aren't warm-blooded, what insects eat is aimed directly at body growth rather than maintaining a stable body temperature.
While the results are promising, the researchers caution that more study needs to be done in order to determine the impact of insect-farming on the entire production chain.
CITATION: Oonincx DGAB, van Itterbeeck J, Heetkamp MJW, van den Brand H, van Loon JJA, et al. (2010) An Exploration on Greenhouse Gas and Ammonia Production by Insect Species Suitable for Animal or Human Consumption. PLoS ONE 5(12): e14445. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0014445
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