Study says mealworms may be best 'sustainable' protein

Posted Dec 20, 2012 by Leigh Goessl
Could bugburgers be the wave of the future? Researchers in the Netherlands believe so. According to a new study, the researchers say that mealworms are a more "sustainable" alternative to poultry, pork, beef, and milk.
Meal worm in venus fly trap
Meal worm in venus fly trap
Beatrice Murch
Dutch researchers have concluded that mealworms may someday be the primary source of protein, reported NPR.
Up to this point, the theory of eating bugs in place of livestock is not new, however, little has been known about the effects of bug production as a food source on the environment. This group of researchers set out to examine this issue and quantify the environmental impact of eating bugs, reported Discovery News.
"The suggestion that insects would be more efficient has been around for quite some time," said Dennis Oonincx, an entomologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, reported Live Science. Reportedly, Oonincx and colleagues decided to test the theory and compared greenhouse gas emissions created by five species of insects vs. those of cattle and pigs.
Oonincx said about the results, they "really are quite hopeful."
Researchers argue that bugs could be a suitable source of protein and, especially, mealworms can be an appropriate replacement for "traditional" proteins. Benefits of consuming insects as opposed to livestock were stated to be:
• Livestock cause greenhouse gasses, creating negative environmental effects. Mealworms do not emit any methane.
• Livestock take up a significant amount of agricultural land. According to media reports, livestock currently use approximately 70 percent of all farmland.
• Mealworms do not need to consume large amounts of resources to survive, for instance, they can live on grains and carrots, whereas researchers say demand for food from animals is expected "to rise as much as 80 percent by 2050," reported Discovery.
Drawback: mealworms need to be warm to grow and this would put a draw on energy.
"It proves the hypothesis that insects can be a more efficient source [of protein], and I definitely believe there is a future for edible insects," Oonincx said. "It may not be as the animal as such but regarding protein extraction there is a lot to be learned and a lot to be gained."
Westernized societies are "squeamish" when it comes to the idea of eating bugs, say researchers, and this cultural barrier is likely the biggest obstacle.
"The freeze-dried forms of mealworms produced in the Netherlands are easy to grind into a powder on your kitchen countertop. I have already used them with good success in brownies," said entomologist Florence Dunkel at the University of Montana, who did not participate in this study, reported Fox News.
The full study has been published in the Dec. 19 issue of PLoS ONE.
Can mealworm main dishes or snacks be the next big thing? Or perhaps a bugburger with a side of fries? What do you think?