Farmed Python Meat Could Be The Earth-Friendly Food Of The Future

As the world tries to wean itself off emission-belching agriculture, giant pythons could prove to be a more sustainable, slithering alternative to beef, pork, and chicken.

In a new study, a team of scientists argues that pythons could provide a “flexible and efficient” alternative to other conventional farmed livestock, since they are surprisingly sustainable while offering meat that’s high in protein, but low in saturated fats.

As for the taste, python meat is said to taste a lot like chicken – that’s what they always say, huh?

The researchers found that pythons are surprisingly well-suited to the demands of commercial farming. These giant beasts grow rapidly, reaching maturity within three years, plus they are highly fertile, capable of producing 100 eggs every year for two decades. 

Python farming is a well-established practice in parts of Asia where species like reticulated pythons (Malayopython reticulatus) and Burmese pythons (Python bivittatus) are routinely harvested for their meat. 

To investigate the practicalities of this fascinating form of farming, researchers at Macquarie University and the University of Oxford studied just over 4,600 pythons at two python farms in southeast Asia: one in central Thailand’s Uttaradit Province and another near Ho Chi Minh City, southern Vietnam. 

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

They are fed on a diet that generally involves wild-caught rodents and waste protein from agri-food supply chains. Some of the farms even made their own “sausages” from processed waste protein and fed them to their pythons. Sounds delicious!

Despite being fed just once a week, the pythons grew up to 46 grams (1.6 ounces) per day. Among the Burmese pythons, 1 gram (0.04 ounces) of python meat could be harvested for every 4.1 grams (0.1 grams) of food consumed, which is much more efficient than other livestock.

On top of that, python farms were found to produce fewer greenhouse gases than farms for warm-blooded animals, like cows, pigs, and poultry. 

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

It also wasn’t a big deal if the pythons skipped many meals, which is useful knowledge for parts of their world suffering from food insecurity. The team found that 61 percent of the Burmese pythons fasted for periods of between 20 and 127 days, yet lost very little body mass. 

The snakes also scarcely consume water, which is another big positive for sustainability. 

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

Given all these apparent benefits, the researchers believe that more countries should start looking at the possibility of commercial python farming. They imagine it could be a suitable venture for some low-income countries that are already facing food insecurity and suffering from protein deficiency.

“Climate change, disease, and diminishing natural resources are all ramping up pressure on conventional livestock and plant crops, with dire effects on many people in low-income countries already suffering acute protein deficiency,” added Dr Natusch.

Realistically, however, they think it’s unlikely that large-scale python farming will pick up in North America, Europe, or Australia.

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

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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