Why now is a good time to invest in reptiles
Updated: Jul 20, 2022
Efforts to feed our growing population with safe, nutritious and sustainable food are failing. Over 2 billion people are food insecure, almost 700 million are undernourished, and the problem is getting worse. Reptiles may play a key role in addressing these food-system deficiencies.
One of the main problems we face is that our food systems are currently limited by energetically extravagant and inefficient livestock. Three quarters of our farmed meat draws on just five species, all of which have similar warm-blooded physiologies to our own. Simply put, our energy deficient and unpredictable planet coupled with our high-octane, high-risk livestock systems is no longer capable of meeting our needs. For example, 30% of children in Africa and Asia lack the nutrition required to stave off childhood stunting.
Much of the current global food system relies heavily on a small set of calorie-rich but nutrient-poor monocultures, contributing to a narrowing of diets, diminishing democratic food sovereignty, and simultaneous epidemics of both malnutrition and obesity. Trying to solve the global food security crisis in the absence of diverse livestock systems is bad for our health.
More than a third of anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions and 70 percent of freshwater usage can be attributed to food production. Agriculture is also the leading cause of habitat degradation and a principle driver of the biodiversity crisis. Trying to solve the global food security crisis in the absence of sustainable livestock systems is bad for the environment.
Nothing short of a radical transformation will end global hunger. Most of what we have now is either unsustainable or unscalable. A new global food system must produce greater quantities of a more diverse range of nutrient-dense foods rather than simply providing more empty calories. It must also produce these diverse foods sustainably, minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and negative impacts on biodiversity.
Reptiles have been largely overlooked by mainstream agrifood systems. Few big livestock corporates realise that reptile meat is consumed by over a billion people because demand has traditionally been confined to the tropics and away from profitable supermarket shelves. Now emerging economies in the Global South are shifting these patterns, and reptiles are fast becoming an important part of the global diet.
But why reptiles and not chickens? Because reptiles are fundamentally more resource efficient and climate-smart. They require 90% less food calories compared to birds and mammals and can cope with extreme climates better than most vertebrates. They are extremophiles; resource efficiency specialists; a sort of sustainable hybrid between solar powered chickens and dryland aquaculture.
The affluent palates of the temperate north have long ignored the culinary potential of reptiles. Perhaps now, whilst we’re sweltering under yet another record heatwave, is a good time to invest.
A farmer prepares snake eggs for incubation. Farming reptiles for meat, leather, and medicinal products is a dynamic and rapidly evolving industry in the tropics.