THE invasive gorse bush could produce enough protein to feed millions of people, the head of a Scottish Government research programme has said.

The suggestion comes from Professor Wendy Russell of the University of Aberdeen, who has been leading a Scottish Government research programme looking into the protein content of invasive plants that must be doused with herbicides to keep them under control.

While gorse is native to Britain it has been widely cleared across Scotland due to it encroaching on valuable arable land that is used for other crops.

The prickly plant contains 17% protein content and has been used as an animal feed in the past.

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In addition, Prof Russell has said that the amount of CO2 used to produce a single kilogram of protein isolate from gorse (4.5 to 6kg) as opposed to the average used to produce an equivalent from meat (102kg).

While calculations suggest that protein produced from the removal of gorse from marginal land could "easily feed" Scotland's population, Prof Russell said that it is a suggestion for the future rather than for immediate implementation.

Prof Russell was speaking at an event put on by the Science Media Centre on alternative proteins looking at the positives and negatives of alternatives to meat and dairy food products.

She said: “It’s something that we can gain protein from at no extra cost – and probably at a saving.

“When we did the calculations, just from active removal from marginal lands, there is enough gorse protein to easily feed our population.

“Gorse and broom were fed to cattle at times when crops failed in the past, so we think protein from these types of plants could be used as animal food.

“If protein isolates are produced in the correct way, so to be safe, they could be considered as human food in the future.

“I’m not advocating that we’re ready to feed gorse to humans at this point, but it’s something that we can think about for the future.”

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The Science Media Centre event also saw the Food Standards Agency (FSA) launch a polling report that showed 60% of people in the UK are willing to try plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy.

Chief scientific adviser at the FSA Professor Robin May said: “There is a huge potential for novel proteins to have massive benefits in terms of environmental benefit, nutritional benefit, and access of a wider population [to good food]. Our priority is to do everything possible to help businesses get those novel, innovative products safely onto the shelves as swiftly as possible.”