Unconventional Sources of Animal Protein: Feasibility of Production in Homestead and its Nutritive Value

-Dr Anjan Jyoti Nath

The food that we consume for the growth and maintenance of our body contains a variety of useful components known as nutrients. These nutrients help us to maintain the overall physical and mental well-being i.e. the health. While carbohydrate and fat in food gives us energy, protein supplies the amino acids required for tissue growth. In certain cases, when the external supply of energy in the form of carbohydrates and fats is restricted, or when the carbohydrates and fats stored in the body are exhausted, the structural proteins in the muscles can also be metabolised to produce energy. Some other macro or micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, are also required to be supplied through the diet for optimum physical activities.
span style=”font-size: 14pt;”> Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and protein is the major constituent of different cells of our body. In addition, proteins are the constituent part of many enzymes, hormones, antibodies and other intracellular or extracellular components of the body. They help us in performing different physiological activities and equip us with the disease resistance capacity.

The dietary supply of proteins can be obtained either from plant or animal sources. While food derived from plant sources contain low amount of protein; animal food such as milk, meat, egg and fish are the elite sources of essential amino acids, hence termed as “complete protein”. Essential amino acids are those amino acids which cannot be synthesized inside the body. Therefore, a combination of food from different sources is very much essential for the vegetarians to obtain all the essential amino acids. Majority of the human population is non-vegetarian by their food habit. However, foods derived from the animal sources are expensive. As the human population is exploding across the globe, the demand for animal derived protein is also increasing.
Although India ranks first in milk production, but still lagging behind in meat and egg production. The Per Capita Availability of animal food product is far below (except milk) the expected range in terms of the recommended daily intake values. The consumption pattern of animal proteins varies among the Indian families by the production cum availability of food animals, culture and tradition, religious practices, geo-demography, socio-economic status and many other intrinsic factors. The conventional sources of animal proteins are also considerably expensive for many Indian families to afford.
The unconventional sources of animal protein, should therefore be explored as a supplement to the conventional animal proteins. Though it is apparently difficult to distinguish the conventional and unconventional animal protein sources in absolute term, but it holds the potential to be explored. An unconventional animal protein source could be anything that is not generally accepted by a greater population as a part of their habitual animal protein intake. A particular food stuff which is considered conventional by a community/religion/region etc. may not essentially be considered conventional by the people of some other community/religion/region etc. This could be multifactorial as mentioned earlier. Further, the existing ethical and legal issues should also be taken into consideration. Also not to forget about the health hazards for some individuals (toxicity, allergens etc.) in choosing such animal species as protein source. Further, some food habits may also be considered taboo and/or vices, which limits its acceptability.
Unconventional animal protein sources could be a cheaper alternative to the conventional animal protein sources as they can be reared easily in a homestead with low input and lesser space. Adoption of scientific rearing practices may increase their productive potential and thus enhances economic gain. Some animal species can also be reared for their ornamental popularity and export potential, provided there is no ethico-legal restrictions. It is possible that with the increasing large scale availability of certain food animal species e.g. Japanese quail, rabbit, emu, silk worm pupa, frog, snail, edible insects etc we may observe a gradual shift in our food habit. The distinction of these animals as well as many such other food animal species to be regarded as conventional/unconventional animal protein source is still ill defined as per the applicable situations. In many cases, there is meagre amount of scientific data available regarding their nutritive value, production potentialities and profitability.
Scientists are now looking for the alternatives to find some new supplementary animal protein sources. Recent technological advancements have also insisted the scientists to grow a piece of animal tissue under controlled laboratory environment. The practical feasibilities and limitations of such “in vitro meat” expedition is yet uncertain. The immediate solution should therefore emphasise the enhanced production capabilities of existing conventional food animals as well as evaluating new food animal species for their nutritive value, large scale production in lesser space and time, economic profitability to the farmers etc.
Exploring the possibilities and creative ideas in the field of unconventional animal protein source could definitely lead us towards a new dimension of fulfilling our nutritional protein requirement. However, exploiting the maximum productive potential of existing conventional animal protein sources could itself be promising. After successful execution of prototypical green and white revolution in India, we can also think for another revolution for self- sustenance in animal products, particularly meat.

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Address: Assistant Professor, Department of Microbiology, Lakhimpur College of Veterinary Science, Assam Agricultural University, Joyhing, North Lakhimpur- 787 051, Assam. Email: drnath76@gmail.com

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