Knowledge for better food systems

Mealworms as a Protein Source for Humans

A study regarding the efficiency of beetle larvae (mealworms) as a potential protein source was published in the journal PLOS ONE by researchers at the University of Wageningen in Netherlands. The researchers compared the environmental impact of meat production on a mealworm farm to traditional animal farms using three parameters: land usage, energy needs, and greenhouse gas emissions. From the start of the process to the point that the meat left the farm, they found that mealworms scored better than the other foods. Per unit of edible protein produced, mealworm farms required less land and similar amounts of energy.

The demand for animal protein is expected to rise by 70–80% between 2012 and 2050, while the current animal production sector already causes major environmental degradation. Edible insects are suggested as a more sustainable source of animal protein. However, few experimental data regarding environmental impact of insect production are available. Therefore, a lifecycle assessment for mealworm production was conducted, in which greenhouse gas production, energy use and land use were quantified and compared to conventional sources of animal protein. Production of one kg of edible protein from milk, chicken, pork or beef result in higher greenhouse gas emissions, require similar amounts of energy and require much more land. This study demonstrates that mealworms should be considered a more sustainable source of edible protein.

Citation as follows:
Oonincx,D.G.A., de Boer, I.J.M. Environmental Impact of the Production of Mealworms as a Protein Source for Humans – A Life Cycle Assessment. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (12): e51145 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051145

To access the study, click here.
For an article regarding the study, click here.
For an additional insect lifecycle analysis on the FCRN website, click here.
For related articles on artificial meat click here and most recently here.

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While some of the food system challenges facing humanity are local, in an interconnected world, adopting a global perspective is essential. Many environmental issues, such as climate change, need supranational commitments and action to be addressed effectively. Due to ever increasing global trade flows, prices of commodities are connected through space; a drought in Romania may thus increase the price of wheat in Zimbabwe.

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