Are we running out of farm land? If you believe the experts, we might be. If you look at a map of the world though, you might wonder about those big empty spaces in the western US and eastern Asia. I know I do. But it doesn’t really matter whether or not we’re actually running out of land if the general public believes it. If they do, watch out. Meal worms will be in your next hamburger, and you won’t send it back to the kitchen.
To see if insects really might be a more sustainable food source than livestock, Oonincx and his colleagues analyzed what global warming gases insects might generate as a result of respiration, the production of their feed, distribution networks to stores where they would get sold, and emissions from the heating of climate-controlled rearing facilities.
The researchers found that growing mealworms released less greenhouse gases than producing cow milk, chicken, pork and beef. They also discovered that growing mealworms takes up only about 10 percent of the land used for production of beef, 30 percent of the land used for pork and 40 percent of the land needed for chickens to generate similar amounts of protein. The researchers note that optimizing mealworm growth might lead to even more land savings.
The scientists did find the amount of energy used to produce mealworms per pound of edible protein was similar to that for pork and 46 percent to 88 percent more than that for chicken, although it was still half or less than for beef. This is in large part due to the fact that mealworms must be kept in heated environments to keep them within a certain range of temperatures for growth.