While many may cringe at the thought of eating insects, a new study finds mealworms are a more eco-friendly source of food than what the average American meat-eater now chows down on.
The study published in the journal PLOS ONE on Wednesday examines the environmental effects of mealworm production compared to animal products and it determined that mealworms created significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions, ABC News reports.
Also, 1 kilogram of edible mealworm protein used much less land when compared to beef, pork, chicken, and milk production.
According to a 2010 report, more than 1.7 billion animals are used in livestock production worldwide, consuming more than one-fourth of the planet's land. The livestock sector accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, a percentage that is estimated higher than the emissions from transportation. These emissions are thought to be a cause of global warming.
Harold Mooney, senior fellow at Stanford University's Woods Institute for the Environment, told ABC News that excessive gas emissions along with large land and energy requirements are all problematic for the industry's long-term sustainability.
Mealworms could be a solution to that problem, though, says Dennis Oonincx and Imke de Boer, the study's authors. The researchers posit that mealworm farming can cut both carbon dioxide emissions and land use by about one-half to two-thirds when compared with milk, chicken, and pork production and by about 90 percent when compared with beef production.
Energy requirements were roughly equal for mealworms, pork and beef, and were slightly less for milk and chicken, ABC reports.
So how do the bugs taste?
Dan Childs, managing editor of the ABC News Medical Unit, tasted them and had this to say: "It isn't as much an assault on the senses as it is an assault on the mind."
There are more people eating insects now, more than ever, one chef says. With the rise of food blogs that have bug recipes, and YouTube videos about how to cook them, a number of people are experimenting.
"Over the course of the past 15 years, interest in eating insects has grown incredibly, even exponentially," said David George Gordon, author of the "Eat-a-Bug Cookbook."
However, there isn't exactly a trend in the U.S. Entrepreneurs should hold off on an insect restaurant for now. Most Americans find the idea of eating bugs revolting.
In the Netherlands, it's a different story. Wholesalers have shelves of freeze-dried locusts and mealworms.
But if the U.S. drops the cultural barrier, the benefits are better nutritional value — many bugs are high in protein — and environmental protection, Lemann, of the Audubon Insectarium, told ABC.
"The hope for this entomologist is that bugs will eventually be viewed like sushi is now," he said.
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