Over the last two weeks, we have taken a look at some of the possible production items that a vertical farm could produce that are not intended as food. These products have a wide range of applications, everything from medicine to cosmetics, disinfectant to deodorant, textiles production, essential, cooking and combustible oils, fertiliser to cooking additives – the range is huge.
Today, however, I would like to return to food production by discussing livestock and their place within a vertical farm.
Traditional Western Livestock
Coming from a western culture, our livestock of choice generally fall into the range of Goats, Sheep, Cattle, Deer, Pigs, Chicken, and Turkey. A common theme with raising livestock is that they require space. While some farming pushes the boundaries on just how much space an animal can be reared in, most raise their animals in large paddocks. Aside from the issues with animal waste and emissions, a big issue with raising livestock is that they take up a lot of space. How much space? Well, a 2012 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said that 26% of the earth land surface is used for livestock grazing and another third for livestock feed production.
While feed and land requirements vary from stock-type to stock-type, many resources are sunk into livestock farming each year, with more harmful side-effects and a less efficient return compared to plant production. Emissions, waste, erosion caused by stock movement and grazing, food and water consumption – these are all issues brought about by livestock cultivation. In terms of the efficiency of the product produced, the World Hunger Program calculated in 1990 that the world harvest at the time could feed 6 billion people on a plant based diet, but could only feed 2.6 billion if that harvest was used to produce meat. If that doesn’t scream inefficiency then I don’t know what does. With a growing global population, efficient food production is an increasingly important aspect of farming.
While there are different ways of combatting these issues, such as becoming a vegetarian or vegan society, you would have an uphill battle convincing many a meat eater not to eat meat. One way forward that might keep everyone happy, is picking and choosing species of livestock that can be grown more efficiently than others. Looking at the image above, we can see that you could produce three times as much pork for the same amount of water needed to produce beef.
Non-Western Eating Habits
While livestock that westerners are familiar with are also consumed in many other global cultures, we also see a lot more diversity in what other livestock are eaten. Cats, Dogs, Rats, Mice, and Duck are a few that come to mind – many of which a westerner would retch at the thought of. More than that, we see a diverse range of insects being eaten, including:
- Grasshoppers, Crickets, Woodworms and Ant eggs are all eaten in Thailand.
- Termites are a common food source in Ghana, enjoyed roasted, friend or used to make bread.
- Mexicans enjoy a range of insect snacks, including French-fired Caterpillars, Chocolate-covered Locusts, Candy-covered Worms and there is even an alcohol known as Mezcal, a shot of which is served with a Moth larvae in the bottom of the glass.
- In China, you can find boiled Water Bugs, Scorpions covered in Baijiu (Chinese Liquor), roasted Bee larvae, fired Silkworm larvae and even Ant soup.
- Austrailias Aborigines eat Moths, Honey-Pot Ants and Witchetty Grubs, enjoyed cooked or roasted.
- Japan consumes a range of insects as well, including boiled Wasp larvae, fired Silk Moth pupae, aquatic insect larvae, fired Cicada, and fired Grasshopper.
While these are just a few examples, it demonstrates not only the range of insects currently eaten but also the range of dishes they are apart of. As disgusting as this food choice might seem, they might be one of the most viable protein sources that humanity could switch into mass producing, compared to our current selection of livestock. The use of insects as food is a practice known as Entomophagy.
There are several benefits to farming insects over the traditional livestock choices which include:
To keep things simple, the benefits of farming insects can be grouped into five main categories – Reduced resources for equivalent production, more nutrient efficient, less waste and emissions, less land usage and more humane farming.
If you compare the food and water requirements of producing an equivalent amount of Cricket protein compared to Beef protein, Crickets require 12 times less feed compared to Cattle, and only 15 litres of water, compared to Cattle which can require as much as 30,000 litres of water. Based on water consumption alone, you could grow 2000 times more Cricket protein compared to Beef protein.
As a bonus, more of an insect is edible compared to other livestock – after slaughtering and processing, only about 40% of a Cow ends up as consumable meat, compared to 80% of a Cricket that can be eaten.
Insects are more efficient at converting food into protein but are also more nutritional as well. Again, comparing a Cricket protein to Beef protein, Crickets have:
- Fewer calories than Beef
- 3 times more protein than Beef
- Low in fat
- More Iron than Spinach
- More Calcium than Milk
- 20 time more B12 than Beef
- All 9 essential Amino Acids
- Ideal Omega 3:6 ratio
- High in Prebiotics
While this will differ from insect to insect, high nutritional content is a common attribute of insects.
Less Waste & Emissions
Once again, on a gram for gram comparison, for every kilogram of Beef, a cow will have produced nearly 3000 grams of greenhouse gas. Crickets, on the other hand, will only have produced a gram of greenhouse gasses for every kilogram. Livestock account for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the biggest producer of which are cattle, as can be seen in the infographic above.
Animal Welfare and Production Space
I mentioned earlier that space was one of the big issues with livestock production – to meet consumer demand a farmers either have to dedicate more and more land to raising larger herds of animals, or they factory farm the beasts, a cruel practice of raising livestock in small confined spaces so as to grow more livestock with less land. For this reason alone, vertical farms are most likely a poor place to raise traditional livestock as growing conditions would probably resemble factory farms more than they would free range. Insects, however, don’t mind living in high-density populations and within a given growing area, like those found in a vertical farm, you could grow a lot of insects.
Another issue a lot of people have with meat production revolves around humane practices such as those involved in the slaughtering of animals. Crickets as an example, when frozen, go into a dormant state known as diapause. Once the insects are in this state, they can be deep frozen, which kills them humanely.
As an additional bonus, Insects can also be raised to maturity a lot faster, better meeting consumption demands and generating more profit for the grower. A Cricket reaches maturity in just one month, while a cow reaches maturity in 2 years. Not only that, but traditional livestock will produce only a handful of young at a time – a female Cricket, on the other hand, can produce 100 eggs during her full, 4-month lifespan. Roughly half of those eggs will themselves be female Crickets, meaning that a farmer can start off with a small initial livestock investment and have an exponentially growing return.
With nearly 1900 known species of edible insect, we are spoilt for choice and have a potential goldmine of sustainable protein production chirping in the world around us – now we just need to make use of them.
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