To meet the challenge of providing nourishment to a global population likely to surpass nine billion by mid-century, there’s an intriguing new proposal: Grow and eat insects. Seriously.
It takes less than 30 seconds to search online for a raft of papers, articles and commentaries all decrying the world’s increasing consumption of animal foods.
Unsustainable. Impractical. Costly. Environmentally toxic.
The downside of trying to feed billions more people, whether the result of larger populations or bigger appetites for meat and dairy products, is monumental, to listen to the critics. However, a United Nations agency has come up with a solution that would provide vast amounts of edible protein, reduce the ecological footprint of protein production and conserve critical resources in the process.
Insects. Bugs. The creepy, crawly, flying creatures we normally try to keep away from our picnic would now be the picnic.
If you get past the gag factor, it’s not such a crazy idea. At this moment there are millions of people who regularly add insects to their meals, many as an important part of the diet. From beetles to ants to crickets to termites, insects are not only a dietary necessity in many areas of the world, they’re considered a culinary luxury.
Now, it’s not in most Americans’ DNA to start crunching on crickets and wolfing down ants — even if they are dipped in milk chocolate. But keep in mind that what the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization is suggesting includes not just additions to the human diet, but probably more importantly, creating a new and environmentally benign source of protein for animal feed, especially for aquaculture.
Before dismissing the idea as nonsense, or simply impractical, consider what sober scientists have concluded about the possibility of raising insects for food and feed.
Growing insects takes advantage of their high feed conversion efficiency. For example, crickets require only 2 kilograms of feed for every 1 kilogram of bodyweight gain. In addition, as the FAO report noted, insects can be “reared on organic side-streams, including human and animal waste,” and thus can help reduce environmental contamination. Not only that, but insects production releases fewer greenhouse gases and less ammonia than cattle or pigs and requires significantly less land and water.
Even now, there is a growing business in raising crickets as feed for zoo animals and certain types of flies for fish food.