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Lisa Rathke / AP

If half the meat eaten worldwide was replaced by insects (think: crickets and mealworms), greenhouse gas emissions would be significantly reduced and farmland use would be cut by one-third, a new study shows. It's a radical new solution for tackling livestock effects on the environment, but the idea of eating insects for sustainability has been thrown around for years.

The study: Researchers at the University of Edinburgh compared how conventional meat production from cattle and chicken compared to the process of cultivating alternative meat sources, like insects, lab-grown meat and tofu. They found insects and tofu are the most sustainable and environmentally friendly options because they take up the least amount of land and require the least amount of energy to process.

Why it matters: In the US, insects are typically eaten for the "fear factor" or shock value, rather than their nutritional value. Continued research into the benefits of eating insects could change that, help the environment, and provide high-protein, sustainable alternatives to meat. After all, insects are common meals in other countries.

What's next: The researchers considered the effects of replacing half of the animal products, like beef and chicken, would be replaced with insects. They estimated that would free up 1680 million hectares of land, which is equivalent to 70 times the size of the UK.

The stats: It's been estimated that cattle can account for 75% of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production. And there are other effects of livestock production: Pasture covers twice the area of cropland around the world, and livestock consume around one-third of all harvested crops, per the study.

The solution: "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," said Dr. Peter Alexander, of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences and Scotland's Rural College.

Flashback: In 2011, a college student at University of Chicago launched a startup that analyzed edible insects and tried to bring them to the market for consumption.

Go deeper

Dems race to address, preempt stimulus fraud claims

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Biden officials are working to root out the systematic fraud in unemployment and Paycheck Protection Program claims that plagued the Trump administration’s efforts to boost the economy with coronavirus relief money, Gene Sperling told House committee chairmen privately this week.

Why it matters: President Biden just signed another $1.9 trillion of aid into law, with Sperling tapped to oversee its implementation. And the administration is asking Congress to approve another $2.2 trillion for the first phase of an infrastructure package.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Biden close to picking Nick Burns as China ambassador

Nicholas Burns. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat, is in the final stages of vetting to serve as President Biden’s ambassador to China, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Across the administration, there's a consensus the U.S. relationship with China will be the most critical — and consequential — of Biden's presidency. From trade to Taiwan, the stakes are high. Burns could be among the first batch of diplomatic nominees announced in the coming weeks.

Biden's Russian sanctions likely to achieve little

President Biden announces new sanctions against Russia. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Despite bold talk from top administration officials, there's little reason to think the Russia sanctions package President Biden announced Thursday will do anything to alter Russian President Vladimir Putin's behavior or calculus.

Why it matters: While it's true some elements of the package — namely, the targeting of Russia's sovereign debt — represent significant punitive measures against Moscow, it leaves plenty of wiggle room for the Russian president.