Farmed python meat could be the environmentally friendly food of the future

As the world tries to rid itself of agriculture’s emissions binge, giant pythons could prove to be a more sustainable, slithering alternative to beef, pork and chicken.

In a new study, a team of scientists argue that pythons could offer a “flexible and efficient” alternative to other conventional agricultural livestock because they are surprisingly durable while offering meat that is rich in protein but low in saturated fats.

As for the taste, python meat is said to be very similar to chicken. They always say that, don’t they?

The researchers found that pythons are surprisingly well suited to the demands of commercial farming. These gigantic beasts grow quickly and reach maturity within three years. In addition, they are very fertile and can produce a hundred eggs per year for twenty years.

Python breeding is an established practice in parts of Asia where species such as reticulated pythons (Malayopython reticulatus) and Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus) are routinely harvested for their meat.

To explore the practical aspects of this fascinating form of agriculture, researchers from Macquarie University and the University of Oxford studied just over 4,600 pythons on two python farms in Southeast Asia: one in Thailand’s central Uttaradit province and another in the near Ho Chi Minh City, southern Vietnam.

The pythons were kept in giant warehouses with a “semi-open” design to allow ventilation and provide the animals with the temperatures of their natural environment.

They are fed a diet typically consisting of wild-caught rodents and waste proteins from food supply chains. Some farms even made their own “sausages” from processed waste protein and fed them to their pythons. Sounds delicious!

Despite being fed only once a week, the pythons grew to 46 grams (1.6 ounces) per day. In Burmese pythons, 1 gram of python meat could be harvested for every 4.1 grams of food consumed, which is much more efficient than other livestock.

In addition, python farms were found to produce fewer greenhouse gases than farms for warm-blooded animals, such as cows, pigs and poultry.

“Cold-blooded reptiles… are vastly more efficient at converting the food they eat into more meat and body tissue than any warm-blooded creature ever could,” said Dr. Daniel Natusch, lead author of the study and Honorary Research Fellow at Macquarie University . in a statement.

It was also not a problem if the pythons skipped many meals, which is useful knowledge for parts of their world that suffer from food insecurity. The team found that 61 percent of Burmese pythons fasted between 20 and 127 days, yet lost very little body mass.

The hoses also hardly use any water, which is also a big positive point for sustainability.

“Snakes require minimal water and can even survive on the dew that falls on their scales in the morning. They require very little food and eat rodents and other pests that attack food crops. And historically, they were a delicacy in many places,” Dr. Natusch added.

Given all these clear benefits, the researchers believe that more countries should explore the possibility of commercial python farming. They think this could be a suitable venture for some low-income countries that already face food insecurity and protein shortages.

“Climate change, diseases and declining natural resources are all increasing pressure on conventional livestock and plant crops, with serious consequences for many people in low-income countries who already face acute protein shortages,” Dr Natusch added.

Realistically, however, they think it is unlikely that large-scale python farming will increase in North America, Europe or Australia.

“I think it will be a long time before you see python burgers served in your favorite local restaurant,” noted co-author Professor Rick Shine from Macquarie University’s School of Natural Sciences.

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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