A neglected protein-rich ‘superfood’

By Isabelle Gerretsen

The idea of biting into a burger made from crushed crickets or mixing mealworms into your fried rice may take a little getting used to. But even if the thought of eating insects turns your stomach now, bugs could – and some researchers say should – form an important part of our diet.

While the West might be unusually squeamish about insects, people have been eating them for thousands of years, and in many parts of the world the practice is commonplace. Around 2,000 insect species are eaten worldwide in countries across Asia, South America and Africa. In Thailand, heaped trays of crisp deep-fried grasshoppers are sold at markets and in Japan wasp larvae – eaten live – are a delicacy.

Yet in Europe, just 10% of people would be willing to replace meat with insects, according to a survey by the European Consumer Organisation. To some, this unwillingness to eat insects is a missed opportunity.

“Insects are a really important missing piece of the food system,” says Virginia Emery, chief executive of Beta Hatch, a US start-up that creates livestock feed out of mealworms. “[They] are definitely a superfood. Super nutrient dense, just a whole lot of nutrition in a really small package.”

Agriculture is the biggest driver of global biodiversity loss and a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Rearing livestock accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“We’re in the middle of a biodiversity mass extinction, we’re in the middle of a climate crisis, and yet we somehow need to feed a growing population at the same time,” says entomologist Sarah Beynon, who develops insect-based food at the Bug Farm in Pembrokeshire, Wales. “We have to make a change and we have to make a big change.”

Insect cultivation uses a fraction of the land, energy and water required for traditional farming, and has a significantly lower carbon footprint. Crickets produce up to 80% less methane than cows and 8-12 times less ammonia than pigs, according to a study by researchers at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands. Methane is a highly potent greenhouse gas which, although shorter-lived in the atmosphere, has a global warming impact 84 times higher than CO2 over a 20-year period. Ammonia is a pungent gas and air pollutant that causes soil acidification, groundwater pollution and ecosystem damage.

> Source: BBC Future