Is it possible we’ll live in a future that includes insects as part of a routine diet as a main source of protein? While insects are currently eaten in some parts of the world, Westernized societies typically shy away from eating bugs. However, one team of researchers thinks eating mealworms as a primary food source is the best way to go.
A team of researchers in the Netherlands suggest that mealworms may be a chief source of protein for humans in the future. Calling mealworms a “sustainable” alternative, the researchers suggest this insect is a better alternative to pork, poultry, beef and milk.
According to NPR, the Dutch researchers indicated that while the concept of eating bugs is not a new one, that little is known about the effects of producing insects for food and how this would impact the environment.
To find out, the team set out to quantify the environmental impact of eating bugs, reported Discovery News.
“The suggestion that insects would be more efficient has been around for quite some time,” Dennis Oonincx, an entomologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, said, according to Live Science.
As a result, Oonincx and a team of researchers decided to test this theory and examined the greenhouse gas emissions created by five different species of insects vs. those of cattle and pigs.
Oonincx said about the results were “really are quite hopeful.”
In their findings, Ooninix and his colleagues argued that there are many advantages to eating insects, especially mealworms, instead of livestock as a primary food source. They indicated that livestock create excessive greenhouse gasses which create harmful environmental effects, whereas mealworms do not emit methane.
Additionally, the researchers noted that livestock take up a large amount of agricultural acreage and insects would take up less land which could be used for crops. Another benefit, say researchers, is that mealworms can survive on grains and carrots, unlike livestock which consume a significant amount of resources in order to survive. According to the Discovery article, the demand for food for animals is expected to rise considerably by 2050, 80 percent.
Although the researchers admit there is a disadvantage in that mealworms need to be kept warm in order to grow; creating heat energy for them could cause some offset in environmental impact.
Overall though, they suggest there are more benefits than drawbacks.
“It proves the hypothesis that insects can be a more efficient source [of protein], and I definitely believe there is a future for edible insects,” Oonincx said. “It may not be as the animal as such but regarding protein extraction there is a lot to be learned and a lot to be gained.”
The full study was published in the Dec. 19 issue of PLoS ONE.