The FAO estimates that the global population will reach 9.7 billion people by 2050. Population growth puts additional stress on the global environment and accentuates the vulnerability of future food security.
With increasing urbanisation, limited resources and climate change, meeting the future demand for food – especially sources of protein – is a global challenge. Presently, most people in Western countries get their protein primarily from meat - one of the most environmentally damaging behaviours.
Go vegan? That’s a bit drastic for a lot of people, and is not necessarily the best solution for your health or the environment. We've discovered an alternative! An alternative that is rich in protein, vitamins and minerals without destroying the environment.
Edible insects are a viable solution to tackling climate change as well as the global food crisis. Here are the most important facts why we should all start eating insects to save the planet.
1. Crickets require 12 times less feed than cattle to produce the same amount of protein
It is intuition that an insect consumes less than a chicken, a pig or a cow - they are tiny! However, interestingly insects actually also consume much less per unit body mass than other livestock, this is referred to as the feed conversion ratio.
The consumption of insects leads to less waste: 80% of a cricket is edible and digestible whereas this number drops to 55% for chickens and pigs, and further to only 40% for cows.
This means that crickets are twice as efficient in converting feed to food as chickens, at least four times more efficient than pigs, and a huge 12 times more efficient than cattle. One reason for this is that insects are cold-blooded and do not require feed to maintain body temperature.
This graph shows the amount of feed required to produce 1kg of protein from crickets, chicken and beef.
Insects are much more water efficient than any other source of protein. If a family replaced the beef in one meal every week with insects they would save close to ONE MILLION litres of water in a year.
Amazingly insects require even less water than soya beans, and many other pulses and nuts.
Modern agriculture currently drains 70% of all our fresh water resources. Water has already become a scare resource in many parts of the world, and it is estimated that by 2025 64% of the global population is expected to live in water-stressed basins. The increasing demands placed on the global water supply threaten biodiversity, food production and other vital human and environmental requirements.
Water required to produce 1kg of food from crickets, chickens and beef, respectively:
3. Insect production produces 100 times less greenhouse gas emissions than beef cattle.
Livestock rearing is accountable for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions, that is a higher share than the entire transport sector. In addition to lower greenhouse gas emissions, insects also compare favourably to other livestock in ammonia emissions (commonly known as urine and manure), which often contributes to environmental pollution such as nitrification and soil acidification.
4. No Food Waste
Another environmental benefit of insects as an alternative to livestock as a protein source is that they are able to eat almost anything and can therefore be reared sustainably on organic side streams, such as compost and organic kitchen waste (for example vegetable and fruit peel and stems). There is huge potential for insects to convert billions of tonnes of bio waste every year into feed and thereby food. Substituting conventional feed with cheaper organic side streams can also make insect farming more profitable.
Many insect species taste of what they eat, gastronomically giving numerous opportunities for developing different and exciting tastes from organic waste foods such as coffee grounds and orange peel.
5. No antibiotics!
We pump huge amounts of antibiotics and hormones into our livestock to keep them healthy and grow fat fast, in the United States livestock account for 50% of all antibiotic use. On the scale of current use this makes the meat unhealthy for consumption and risks the development of resistant strains of bacteria.
Edible insects do not need antibiotics or hormones for many reasons. Insects are evolutionarily very separate species from humans and therefore their pathogens are often not readily transferrable to humans, and insects bodies are also much less complex systems than humans or livestock, they therefore do not suffer from illness or react to hormones in the same way. The insects we use are certified and under strict regulations for safety and animal welfare, and no pesticides or antibiotics are used at any time.
6. No Pesticides!
Annually we deposit over 2 million tonnes of pesticides across the Earth in an attempt to control insects, unwanted weeds, rodents and bacteria from threatening our food supplies.
Although the use of such pesticides has some agricultural advantages such as the eradication of certain species posing a threat to crops, these few advantages are made negligible when compared with the disadvantages faced by the environment and humans. Traditional and organic methods of pest-control in agriculture include using certain types of insects as crop-protectors and guarding the farmers’ crops from unwanted invasive species. One such farmer friendly insect is the ant, historically used in Chinese orange orchards to protect the trees from other unwanted pests. Interestingly, escamoles (ant larvae and eggs) also happen to be a Mexican delicacy due to their buttery and nutty taste!
Insects could therefore be more than simply our future food source but also simultaneously a solution to our pesticide epidemic.