Could eating bug powder and fungus meat help fight climate change? Yes, but there are easier ways

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A new study from researchers in Finland, published Monday, found that diets that simply cut down on meat and dairy are nearly as climate-friendly as diets that rely on culture-grown meat and milk.

Global agriculture and systems, especially the production of meat and milk, accounted for 31% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2021, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization.

Could eating bug powder and fungus meat help stop climate change? Yes, say scientists in Finland, but they’ve also got some more palatable suggestions.

The researchers created a model that calculates how different diets reduce the potential for global warming. With some tweaking, they got that reduction as high as 80% but it came at a price—some variants of the diet got much of their protein from things like cell-based cultured meat, microalgae and milk produced in a tank from cow mammary cells.

The happy surprise was that diets that simply cut down on actual meat and dairy were almost as climate-friendly.

“It doesn’t need to be technology,” said Rachel Mazac, a food systems researcher at the University of Helsinki and one of the paper’s authors.

Their model showed that even replacing 80% of animal food sources with plant-based options resulted in a 75% reduction in climate impact. Reducing alone was responsible for a 60% lower environmental impact.

“The real take-home message,” she said, “is we have food pathways forward.”

Those pathways will be necessary, say experts. The world is expected to have 9.7 billion mouths to feed in 2050, up 1.9 billion from today. At the same time, almost every country has signed on to the Paris Climate Agreement, a pledge to begin shifting to a carbon-neutral economy to fight .

Food will be a big part of that. Global agriculture and food systems accounted for as much as 31% of in 2021, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization. For the United States, agriculture alone accounts for 11%.

“We need to make some pretty sweeping changes if we want to minimize our impacts,” said Mazac.

Future foods: Vat-grown milk, culture-grown meat and microbial proteins

The authors of the paper, published in the scientific journal Nature Food, focused on what they call “novel or future foods” which include some very old fare and some very new.

In the ancient category would be insect meal. In the Bible, John the Baptist ate locusts and wild honey. Many cultures still eat insects, which provide an excellent source of protein and healthy fat.

In the new category are things like spirulina, mushroom meat and kelp.

Spirulina is a powder that’s vitamin-rich and added to smoothies and other foods. Mushroom meat, which is actually made from a fungus, is sold in the U.S. as Quorn. Kelp burgers and jerky are already available.

Plant-based meat substitutes such as Beyond Burgers and Impossible Burgers are already popular—even at fast-food restaurants including Burger King, KFC, Starbucks and others.

In the future category are milk grown from cells, culture-grown meat and microbial proteins.

These last aren’t on the market yet but there are several companies working on them. Singapore-based Turtle Tree Labs has an operation in West Sacramento, California, that’s testing cell-based dairy. Several companies around the world are working on lab-grown meat. A San Franciso company is working on brewing precision food-grade proteins.

Adding these novel foods to a daily diet wouldn’t require chowing down on whole crickets or having big strings of kelp in your salads, said Mazac. Most come in powder form.

“It’s more like you can incorporate it into breads, protein shakes, those kind of things,” she said.

For those who want to double down on future foods, Mazac offered a possible menu.

The day could start with a protein shake for breakfast made from cow milk brewed in cell cultures, with added insect powder for protein, blue-green algae for vitamins and lab-grown cloudberry slurry for taste. At lunch there could be a burger made from beef grown in a vat and for dinner a burrito made from scrambled cultured fungal protein.

It’s not much of a contrast with a meal available today from plant-based options, she noted. That might include a breakfast of whole grain toast with peanut butter and a smoothie made from banana and oat milk. For lunch, an Impossible Burger and for dinner a burrito filled with spicy jackfruit in barbecue sauce.

The transition to diets including foods that contribute less to global warming is already beginning, said Fabrice DeClerck, director of science at EAT, an international foundation that works to make more sustainable.

Speaking from Amsterdam, he said it’s much more common to find healthier and more plant-forward foods at train stations, airports and the like today than it was even five years ago.

That might include a carrot or lentil salad, or a sandwich menu with several vegetarian options. Even the meat sandwiches “might come with one slice of ham instead of six,” he said.

How to fight global warming at mealtime: Less meat, more veggies

While novel foods could work to lower the carbon impact of food, there’s a much easier way to get to the same goal, said DeClerck. His organization helped write a 2019 report outlining what a healthy and sustainable global diet would look like.

Like most other research into this realm, it found that lowering meat and dairy consumption down made diets both healthier and less likely to contribute to .

“When you look at the ranges, we’re talking about beef once per week. Poultry twice per week. Fish two to three times per week,” he said.

Some of the change is likely to happen naturally. As the population rises, more people will put more demand on agriculture, raising costs and making things like meat and dairy products more expensive, causing consumption to go down.

In the end, shifting to a diet heavier in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and added more for flavor than substance may be easier than getting humanity over its collective “food neophobia,” the avoidance of new foods.

It’s not simply a question of having the right chemical composition, said Geoffrey Heal, a professor of environmental economics at Columbia University business school.

“Do people like it? Does it have the right taste and mouth-feel?” he said. “There are a lot of things that go into deciding if something is acceptable to humans as food.”

Mazac said their models showed lowering food’s environmental impact doesn’t require an entirely new food technology, or for everyone to become vegan.

“It just says that we need to start consuming less and focusing a bit more on the quality of the nutrition and the quality of the production,” she said.

More information:
Rachel Mazac et al, Incorporation of novel foods in European diets can reduce global warming potential, water use and land use by over 80%, Nature Food (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s43016-022-00489-9

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Hexbyte Glen Cove How eating less in early life could help with reproduction later on

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Switching from a restricted diet to eating as much as you like could be beneficial for reproduction in later life, according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

Researchers studied the eating and mating habits of the small fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.

They found that females that consumed less food for their entire lives lived longer; however, they didn’t reproduce as well as their better-fed counterparts.

But those that switched from a to unlimited food started mating and reproducing more. These flies produced three times more offspring than those that were kept on a restricted diet.

Meanwhile, their survival was similar to females that had been fully fed their whole lives.

Lead researcher Dr. Zahida Sultanova, from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, said, “Dietary restriction is associated with longer life and better health in many organisms, including humans.

“We wanted to find out what happens when dietary restriction in early in life is followed by eating a lot later in life.”

The team investigated the effect of early life dietary restriction on survival, mating behavior and reproduction in fruit flies.

While some were given enough food, others were put on a restricted diet with just 40 percent of their usual intake of yeast.

A third group were put on a restricted diet in early life, followed by being allowed to consume as much as they liked.

Dr. Sultanova said, “Dietary restriction is generally associated with and reduced reproduction.

“However, when our flies were switched from a restricted diet to normal eating, they started mating and reproducing more, while their survival became similar to fully-fed females.

“These results in show that females reproduce little while they are eating little, but they maintain their , and when they have unlimited food late in life, they immediately start reproducing a lot.

“This shows that reduced reproduction due to eating less in can be fully compensated by switching to a rich diet late in life.

“There have been very few studies on dietary restriction and reproductive health in humans—mainly because these sorts of studies have ethical and logistical limitations.

“However, the results from studies in model organisms suggest that it is worth exploring this further using approaches that are more suitable to humans.”

“Fitness benefits of ” is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Wednesday, November 24, 2021.

More information:
Fitness benefits of dietary restriction, Proceedings of the Royal Society B (2021). rspb.royalsocietypublishing.or … .1098/rspb.2021.1787

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Chilean scientist plans to clean up mining with ‘metal eating’ bacteria

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Chilean biotechnologist Nadac Reales shows a nail and screw inside a jar with metal-eater bacteria in her laboratory at a mining site in Antofagasta.

Starving microorganisms capable of surviving in extreme conditions have already managed to “eat” a nail in just three days.

In Chile, a scientist is testing “metal-eating” she hopes could help clean up the country’s highly-polluting .

In her laboratory in Antofagasta, an industrial town 1,100-kilometers north of Santiago, 33-year-old biotechnologist Nadac Reales has been carrying out tests with extremophiles—organisms that live in .

Reales came up with her idea while still at university as she was conducting tests at a mining plant using microorganisms to improve the extraction of copper.

“I realized there were various needs in the mining industry, for example what happened with the metallic waste,” she told AFP.

Some metals can be recycled in smelting plants but others, such as HGV truck hoppers that can hold 50 tons of rock, cannot and are often discarded in Chile’s Atacama desert, home to the majority of the country’s mining industry.

Chile is the world’s largest producer of copper, which accounts for up to 15 percent of the country’s GDP, resulting in a lot of mining waste that pollutes the environment.

In her research, Reales, who now runs her own company Rudanac Biotec, concentrated on iron-oxidizing bacteria called Leptospirillum.

She extracted the bacteria from the Tatio geysers located 4,200 meters above sea level, some 350 kilometers from Antofagasta.

The bacteria “live in an acidic environment that is practically unaffected by relatively high concentrations of most metals,” she said.

“At first the bacteria took two months to disintegrate a nail.”

But when starved, they had to adapt and find a way of feeding themselves.

After two years of trials, the result was a marked increase in the speed at which the bacteria “ate,” devouring a nail in just three days.

Chilean scientist Nadac Robles hopes her ‘metal eating’ bacteria will make green mining “totally feasible”

Surprising benefit

Reales says “chemical and microbiological tests” have proved the bacteria are not harmful to humans or the environment.

“We’ve always seen a lot of potential in this project that has already passed an important test in the laboratory,” said Drina Vejar, a microbiologist who is part of a four-person team working with Reales.

“It’s really necessary at this time when we have to plan for a more , especially in all these cities with so many polluting industries.”

Mining companies have shown interest in the research but while Rudanac Biotec previously benefitted from a state fund for , the company needs investment to move on to its next stage of trials.

Reales says she needs money to see if her method will “eat a medium sized beam or a hopper.”

When the disintegration process is complete, what remains is a reddish liquid residue, a solution known as a lixiviant that itself possesses a surprising quality.

“After biodisintegration the product generated (the liquid) can improve the recovery of copper in a process called hydrometallurgy,” said Reales.

Essentially, the liquid residue can be used to extract copper from rock in a more sustainable manner than the current use of chemicals in leaching.

Reales says it means green mining is “totally feasible.”

That is of great interest to mining companies that could use it to improve their large scale extraction of copper or other minerals, while also reducing their pollution, something they are required to do by law.

Reales recently submitted a request for an international patent for her technology, but more importantly she hopes it will help reduce metal waste blotting the landscape in the regions of her country.

© 2021 AFP

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Is Beef the new coal? Climate-friendly eating is on the rise thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Is Beef the new coal? Climate-friendly eating is on the rise

Hexbyte Glen Cove

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Eleven Madison Park, a top Manhattan restaurant, is going meatless. The Epicurious cooking site stopped posting new beef recipes. The Culinary Institute of America is promoting “plant-forward” menus. Dozens of colleges, including Harvard and Stanford, are shifting toward “climate-friendly” meals.

If this continues—and the Boston Consulting Group and Kearney believe the trend is global and growing—beef could be the new coal, shunned by elite tastemakers over rising temperatures and squeezed by increasingly cheap alternatives.

“Beef is under a whole lot of pressure,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communications. “It was the shift in that was the death knell for coal. And it’s the same thing here. It’s going to be the shift in consumer tastes and preferences, not some regulation.”

Americans do claim to want a shift. Seventy percent say it would be healthier if the country ate less and 58% would like to eat more fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains, according to a 2020 survey by the food market research firm Datassential. Worries about climate pile on top of long-standing health concerns about .

Yet, while long-term trends back the change, U.S. consumption of beef actually ticked up slightly during the 2020 pandemic, to 55.8 pounds per person. It has been slowly rising since 2015 after plunging during the 2007-2009 Great Recession. Consumption last year remained 11.4% below 2006 and nearly 40% below peak 1970s levels, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

Tastemakers are pushing. Popular culinary personalities including chef Jamie Oliver are promoting plant-centric meals. Bill Gates is urging developed nations to completely give up conventional beef. Many school and corporate cafeterias have dropped all-beef patties for “blended burgers” made of one-third mushrooms.

Meanwhile, a backlash is stirring among rural Republican politicians who scent a new battleground in the partisan culture wars. In broad swaths of the Heartland, cattle and the rows of corn grown for are central to livelihood and identity. More than a third of U.S. farms and ranches are beef cattle operations, making it the single largest segment of U.S. agriculture. Burgers sizzle from countless backyard barbecues.

Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts seized on a suggestion by his Democratic counterpart in neighboring Colorado that the state’s residents cut red meat for one day to counter with a “Meat on the Menu” Day. Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds outdid him, declaring all of April “Meat on the Menu Month.” Fox News later spent days promoting phony accusations the Biden administration had launched a “War on Beef.”

It hasn’t, but there is no escaping the fact that beef is a climate villain. Cows’ ruminant digestive system ferments grass and other feed in multiple stomach compartments, burping methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Cattle’s relatively long lifespan compared to other meat sources adds to their climate impact.

Globally, 14.5% of human-driven emissions come from , with cattle responsible for two-thirds, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Per gram of protein, beef production has more than 6 times the climate impact of pork, more than 8 times that of poultry and 113 times that of peas, according to a 2018 analysis of global production in the journal Science. U.S. livestock producers generally have lower emissions than worldwide averages because of production efficiencies.

Cattle producers have sought to blunt the appeal of competing faux meat products with state laws banning them from using common meat terms and addressed environmental criticism by promoting the role of ranchers as stewards of the land.

“That Wild West is alive and well because cattle producers protect that space and make it resilient,” said Kaitlynn Glover, executive director of natural resources for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

For now, an emerging global middle class in China and elsewhere is bolstering global demand for meat and feed-grains used for livestock, improving export opportunities for American farmers and ranchers. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said Biden administration climate initiatives won’t target meat consumption.

Investors are rushing into plant-based and cultivated faux meat startups. A Boston Consulting Group report in March heralded the beginning of a “protein transformation” and forecast meat alternatives would make up 11-22% of the global protein market by 2035. A Kearney study projects global meat sales will begin to drop by 2025 and decline 33% by 2040 as alternatives take away market share.

Much as falling costs for natural gas, wind and solar power were drivers in shutting down coal plants reviled by environmentalists, pocketbook decisions will be crucial, said Carsten Gerhardt, a Kearney partner who consults for agribusiness and co-authored the study. Trends suggest alternatives are well on their way to “parity” in taste and texture and will soon beat conventional meat on price, he said.

Plant-based alternatives already have hit the mass market, with Burger King’s Impossible Whopper. Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks serve plant-based sausage patties. Even Tyson Foods Inc, the U.S.’s largest meat processor, joined in this month with its own line of 100% vegan meat products.

Cultivated meat is also advancing. In December, Singapore became the first country to approve commercial sale of such animal cells.

More than half of roughly 350 school districts in the U.S. supplied by food service giant Sodexo SA have switched from all-beef to blended beef-mushroom burgers and many corporate and health-care customers also use the blend for tacos and lasagna, said Lisa Feldman, director of recipe management. Corporate customers are adopting “choice architecture” to steer employees toward meals with less meat.

A consortium of 41 colleges including Harvard, Stanford and Kansas State University joined in a “Menus of Change” collaborative to shift students to healthier, more climate-friendly diets. Harvard dining halls showcase vegetable and grain-heavy “bistro bowls.” The University of North Texas has a “Mean Greens” vegan dining hall. In 2019, the 19 member institutions that reported data lowered meat purchases 9.4% from the year earlier, even as overall food purchases rose.

Sophie Egan, co-director of the university collaborative, said the initiative consciously targets young people to shape food preferences at a time of life when most are more adventurous and still forming identities and tastes for a lifetime. Students are often especially open to dishes inspired by global cuisines that use less meat.

“We know trends start with the youngest generations,” Egan said. “They’re coming in to the dining hall three times a day, sometimes for years. That’s sculpting their food identities for many years to come.

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