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Grub-based diet good for agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions

Tuesday 09 May 2017

Eating insects instead of beef could help to tackle climate change by reducing harmful emissions, according to a new study from am agri-food research hub made up of a number of UK universities.

Tempted? Plant based protein alternatives were also found to be better than conventional meat and lab-grown substitutesReplacing half of the meat eaten worldwide with crickets and mealworms would cut farmland use by a third (freeing up 1680 million hectares of land – an area 70 times the size of the UK), researchers said. Though they acknowledged that recipes involving grubs aren’t likely to become mainstream any time soon, researchers said such a dietary shift would significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, which remain stubbornly high, and are set to rise further as more countries around the world adopt western-style diets, containing large amounts of animal products.

According to the UN, emissions from livestock production alone account for 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas pollution from human activity.

Researchers at the N8 Research Partnership, University of Edinburgh and Scotland’s Rural College looked at several substitutes for animal products as sources of both protein and energy. Using data from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), they compared the environmental impacts of conventional meat production with ‘alternative’ food sources. They looked at different scenarios in which half of current animal production totals were replaced by insects, lab-grown meat or imitation meat.

They found that insects and imitation meat – such as soybean-based foods like tofu – would be the most sustainable options, as they require the least land and energy to produce. Beef is by far the least sustainable protein option, researchers said.

Commenting on the findings on Tuesday, Professor Dominic Moran, N8 AgriFood’s chair in Resilient Food Supply Chains at the University of York, said, “The N8 AgriFood programme focuses on how we can adapt food supply systems to deliver increased resilience and nutrition while reducing environmental impacts. This paper found that we could potentially alleviate some of this pressure by introducing meat alternatives into our everyday diets.”

Prof Moran said insects have formed part of human diets for thousands of years, and added that eating insects - also known as entomophagy -  can deliver good amounts of fat, protein and nutrients.

Lead author Dr. Peter Alexander, from the University of Edinburgh, added, “A mix of small changes in consumer behaviour, such as replacing beef… reducing food waste and potentially introducing insects more commonly into diets, would help achieve land savings and a more sustainable food system.”

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