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Eat insects to save land, says study

Eating more insects and meat substitutes would substantially reduce the amount of land needed to produce the world’s food supply, new research has found.

Although a diet lower in meat is likely to create the greatest reduction in agricultural land, a mix of smaller changes in consumer behaviour, such as eating more insects and imitation meat like tofu, replacing beef with chicken and reducing food waste would also achieve land savings and a more sustainable food system, according to the study published in the Global Food Security journal.

The researchers looked at a number of different scenarios where half of the current volume of animal products consumed are substituted for alternatives whilst maintaining total levels of dietary protein and calories. They found that switching to imitation meat and insects would reduce the volume of agricultural land required by 35% and 34% respectively. However, they noted that both scenarios were likely to be unacceptable to consumers based on current dietary habits.

Switching to cultured meat would require 29% less land, however researchers noted that high energy used in the production of lab-grown meat was a concern under this scenario.

Substituting lower-impact animal protein products such as chicken or eggs for higher impact red meat would also free up around 30% of land, while if the whole world ate the diet of the average Indian, we would need less than half the current land area to feed the global population.

Agricultural land use change in the past 50 years has been dominated by the expansion of livestock production, with livestock animals now consuming around a third of the crops harvested as feed. Livestock is also responsible for around 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions.