Mealworms, The Next Big Foodie Fad?
December 20, 2012

Mealworms, The Next Big Foodie Fad?

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Tired of the same 'ol same 'ol when it comes to dining, and ready for an entirely new culinary experience? Or maybe you just want to be more supportive of Mother Earth, and hope to help curb greenhouse gas emissions with your food selection. Either way, mealworms may be the route for you.

Scientists reported in the journal PLOS ONE on Wednesday that insect protein may be a more sustainable alternative to milk, chicken, pork and beef.

The researchers compared the environmental impact of meat production on a mealworm farm to traditional animal farms. During the study, they considered the following three parameters: land usage, energy needs and greenhouse gas emissions.

The team analyzed the production of two mealworm species at a local farm, calculated protein content and assessed environmental effects by quantifying global warming potential, fossil energy usage and land usage.

They found that from the start of the process to the point that the meat left the farm, mealworms scored better than other foods. Mealworm farms also required fewer land resources and similar amounts of energy per unit of edible protein produced.

For one, mealworms do not emit methane like cows do, which is becoming a growing concern among environmentalist. Also, farms do not need to use energy to heat mealworms when ambient temperatures drop.

The researchers performed previous work showing that mealworms themselves produced fewer greenhouse gases than other animals grown for meat. During this study, which was published in 2010, the team elaborated on the sustainability of insect proteins as a food by showing that growing mealworms for animal protein requires less land and generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions than chicken, pork, beef or dairy products.

"Since the population of our planet keeps growing, and the amount of land on this earth is limited, a more efficient, and more sustainable system of food production is needed," Dennis Oonincx of the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands said in a press release.

"Now, for the first time it has been shown that mealworms, and possibly other edible insects, can aid in achieving such a system."

Scientists predict that the demand for food from animals is expected to rise by as much as 80 percent by 2050. Mealworms and other insects may be one alternative solution for this growing demand.

"Slowing down the expansion of agricultural land is a critical step towards sustainable agriculture," the researchers wrote in their latest paper.

"The increasing world population will therefore need to be fed using the same area of land that is available now. Mealworms require only 43 percent of the amount of land used for the production of one kilogram of edible animal protein as milk, and only 10 percent of the land used for production of beef."