Will insects eventually become a part of our diet?

2013-06-19T05:15:00Z Will insects eventually become a part of our diet?By Dale Hildebrant, Farm & Ranch Guide Farm and Ranch Guide

It would appear the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) doesn’t place a whole lot of confidence in the world’s farmers when it comes to meeting the future food needs of the world, at least not with traditional crops and livestock products.

On May 13 the FAO released a report entitled “Edible insects: Future prospects for food and feed security.”

The bottom line of the report hinted that more exotic food solutions will need to be explored if we are going to be able to feed the world population of 10 billion that is expected at the end of the century – and eating insects needs to be one of those areas explored.

The report claims that eating insects, known as entomophagy, is already taking place in the world, as over 2 billion people already supplement their diet with insects. The most commonly consumed insects, in order of consumption, are: beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, locusts, crickets and cicadas.

The report goes on to say that “insects are everywhere and they reproduce quickly and they have high growth and feed conversion rates and a low environmental footprint.”

Insects also have a high nutritional value, the report noted. Most insects contain high levels of protein, fat, fiber, vitamins and minerals and would be an ideal food supplement for undernourished children.

For example, the report said, the composition of unsaturated omega-3 and six fatty acids in mealworms is comparable with that in fish and higher than in cattle and pigs, and the protein, vitamin and mineral content of mealworms is similar to that in fish and meat.

Insects are much more efficient in feed conversion. For instance, a cricket needs 12 times less feed than cattle to produce the same amount of protein, according to the report. Plus insects will produce fewer greenhouse gases than other animals now used as a source of food.

And the report didn’t stop at using insects in the human diet. They can also become a part of rations for livestock, thus reducing the amount of plant material needed for livestock production so that it can be shifted to food material for human consumption.

Raising those insects in a farm type scenario wouldn’t prove to be too difficult, the report said, since humans have been “farming” insects for thousands of years in the case of silkworms and bees. Insects are small and resilient. Who knows, maybe the average city dweller will be able to have his own cricket farm in their back yard and not only have their own supply of protein, but also be able to listen to a magnificent symphony each evening as they try to fall asleep.

The FAO report acknowledges residents in Western cultures will likely view eating insects with disgust and associate eating insects with primitive behavior.

“We are not saying that people should be eating bugs,” the report said. “Just that they almost certainly will be, out of need. Hunger almost always trumps disgust.”

Insects popping up at your favorite eating place might not be too far off, since in closing, the report suggests that the food industry could help in “raising the status” of insects by including them in new recipes and adding them to restaurant menus.

I can see it coming…pulling into a fast food drive-up window and saying, “I’ll have the McLocust but I’m eating healthy so hold the fries, and give me the flies instead.”

But more realistically, I can see myself loading up my freezer with enough steaks and pork chops to last until I grab my harp and leave the insects to the birds and critters who made insects a part of their diet for thousands of years.

And I have news for the FAO… my nose may be long, but I’m no anteater. Please, do us all a favor and focus on ways that traditional agriculture can feed the growing world population.

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