Swapping meat for edible insects could make a major contribution to tackling climate change, according to scientists.
Farmland use would be cut by a third if half the meat eaten worldwide was replaced with crickets and mealworm grubs, a study has found.
This, in turn, would greatly reduce levels of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere caused by deforestation, demand for fertiliser and water, and methane emissions from cows.
Using insects as ingredients in pre-packaged food could help overcome the “yuk” factor that might put off consumers, said the researchers.
The team from the University of Edinburgh and Scotland’s Rural College looked at the effect of replacing half the current mix of animal products with insects, lab-grown meat or soybean-based ‘imitation meat’ products.
Adopting insects and imitation meat proved to be the most environmentally-friendly strategy.
Lab-grown meat turned out to be no more sustainable than chicken or eggs because of the energy needed for its production.
Halving global meat consumption by eating insects or soybean products would free up 1.7 billion hectares of land – a region 70 times the size of the UK, the scientists calculated.
Lead researcher Dr Peter Alexander, from the University of Edinburgh’s school of GeoSciences, said: “A mix of small changes in consumer behaviour, such as replacing beef with chicken, reducing food waste and potentially introducing insects more commonly into diets, would help achieve land savings and a more sustainable food system.”
The findings, published in the journal Global Food Security, were chiefly based on data from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation.