Why do edible insects need to become a part of our diet?

In 2013, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations),   released a paper entitled "Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Feed and Food Security"

There are nearly 1 billion chronically hungry people worldwide today.  By 2050 it is expected that the world will host 9 billion people.  With land scarce, oceans over fished, and water shortages related to climate change we face a global challenge to find alternative food production, to address current world hunger and to feed future populations. 

To meet the food and nutrition challenges of today and tomorrow the paper looks to edible insect farming and consumption as a prospective solution. 

Insects have always been a part of human diet, and there is now a significant opportunity to merge traditional knowledge and modern science in both developed and developing countries.   At least two billion people around the world include insects in their diet.  Insects provide a valuable source of protein, calcium, iron, and zinc.

Edible insects are a promising alternative to the conventional production of meat, either for direct human consumption or for indirect use as feedstock. To fully realize this potential, much work needs to be done by a wide range of stakeholders. This publication will boost awareness of the many valuable roles that insects play in sustaining nature and human life, and it will stimulate debate on the expansion of the use of insects as food and feed.

Why eat insects?

Overall, entomophagy can be promoted for three reasons:

•  Health:

-  Insects are healthy, nutritious alternatives to mainstream staples such as chicken, pork, beef and even fish (from ocean catch).

-  Many insects are rich in protein and good fats and high in calcium, iron and zinc.

-  Insects already form a traditional part of many regional and national diets.

• Environmental:

-  Insects promoted as food emit considerably fewer greenhouse gases (GHGs) than most livestock (methane, for instance, is produced by only a few insect groups, such as termites and cockroaches).

- Insect rearing is not necessarily a land-based activity and does not require landclearing to expand production. Feed is the major requirement for land.

- The ammonia emissions associated with insect rearing are also far lower than those linked to conventional livestock, such as pigs.

- Because they are cold-blooded, insects are very efficient at converting feed into protein (crickets, for example, need 12 times less feed than cattle, four times less feed than sheep, and half as much feed as pigs and broiler chickens to produce the same amount of protein).

-  Insects can be fed on organic waste streams.

• Livelihoods (economic and social factors):

- Insect harvesting/rearing is a low-tech, low-capital investment option that offers entry even to the poorest sections of society, such as women and the landless.

- Minilivestock offer livelihood opportunities for both urban and rural people.

- Insect rearing can be low-tech or very sophisticated, depending on the level of investment.

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2014 FAO - State-of-the-art on use of insects as Animal Feed

A 60-70% increase in consumption of animal products is expected by 2050. This increase in the consumption will demand enormous resources, the feed being the most challenging because of the limited availability of natural resources, ongoing climatic changes and food-feed-fuel competition. The costs of conventional feed resources such as soymeal and fishmeal are very high and moreover their availability in the future will be limited. Insect rearing could be a part of the solutions.

Although some studies have been conducted on evaluation of insects, insect larvae or insect meals as an ingredient in the diets of some animal species, this field is in infancy.

This FAO report discusses information on the nutritional value of five major insect species and the results of studies on the palatability of using these alternate feeds for animals.   The results of this paper are expected to open new avenues for a large scale use of insect products as animal feed. Click here for the full article.