Insects are a nutrient -rich protein source that is adopted by a large part of the world. Why are some of us so squeamish when it comes to eating them?
The idea of biting into a crushed barbecue or mixing mealworms in the fried rice may take some getting used to. But even if the thought of eating insects is now turning away from the stomach, and some researchers could say that they should - be an important part of our diet.
While the West might deal with insects unusually squeamish, people have been eating it for thousands of years, and in many parts of the world the practice is common. Around 2,000 types of insect are eaten in countries in Asia, South America and Africa. In Thailand, fried trays with crispy fried grasshoppers are sold on markets and a delicacy are eaten in Japan - alive - a delicacy.
We are in the middle of a mass extinction of biodiversity, we are in the middle of a climate crisis, and yet we somehow have to feed a growing population at the same time - Sarah Beynon
However, only 10 % of people in Europe would be willing to replace meat with insects, according to a survey by the European Consumer Organization. For some, this lack of willingness to eat insects is a missed opportunity.
"Insects are a really important missing element in the food system," says Virginia Emery, Managing Director of Beta Hatch, a US start-up company that produces cattle feed from mealworms. "[You] are definitely a superfood. Super nutrient -rich, a lot of nutrients in a really small package."
In the facilities of her company, Virginia Emery is breeding hundreds of thousands of mealworms for use in cattle feed (Credit: BBC)
Virginia Emery is breeding hundreds of thousands of mealworms for use in cattle feed (Credit: BBC) in her company
Therefore, bred insects could help to solve two of the world's biggest problems at once: nutritional uncertainty and the climate crisis. (See our video about how insects are the missing link in our food chain, above or on BBC Reel)
Agriculture is the largest cause of global biodiversity loss and a main cause of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the United Nations (FAO) nutritional and agricultural organization, cattle breeding is responsible for 14.5 % of global greenhouse gas emissions.
"We are in the middle of a mass extinction of biodiversity, we are in the middle of a climate crisis, and yet we somehow have to feed a growing population at the same time," says Entomologist Sarah Beynon, who on the bug farm in Pembrokeshire, Wales, food on insect base developed. "We have to change something, a big change."
Insect breeding only requires a fraction of the country, the energy and water that is necessary for traditional agriculture, and has a significantly lower carbon footprint. According to a study by researchers from the University of Wageringen in the Netherlands, grilling produce up to 80% less methane than cows and 8-12 times less ammonia than pigs. Methane is a highly effective greenhouse gas that, although it lives shorter in the atmosphere, has an 84-time effect on global warming over a period of 20 years. Ammonia is a stinging gas and an air pollution that causes soil acidification, groundwater pollution and damage to ecosystems.
If you look at the protein yield per area, insect breeding needs about a eighth of the area compared to beef - Peter Alexander
The worldwide rearing of insects would clear huge areas that are currently being used for animal husbandry and production of feed for farm animals. If one were to replace half of the meat consumed worldwide with mealworms and grilling, one could reduce the need for arable land by a third and release 1,680 million hectares of land, which corresponds to the 70-fold area of Great Britain. According to a study by the University of Edinburgh, this could reduce global emissions.
In many parts of the world, eating insects is common or even a delicacy
In many parts of the world, eating insects is common or even a delicacy
"If you look at the protein yield per area, insect breeding needs about a eighth of the area compared to beef," says the main author of the study, Peter Alexander, a senior researcher for nutritional security at the University of Edinburgh. Despite these results, Alexander says that eating a bean burger is the more sustainable option, since less energy is used for growing the plants than for the rearing of the insects.
Tilly Collins, Senior Teaching Fellow at the Center for Environmental Policy at Imperial College in London, but argues that insects can meet some needs that cannot meet vegetable food. "Vegetable diet is often associated with considerable carbon consumption. Many plants that people want to eat have catastrophic environmental consequences," she says. "It is better to breed insects efficiently."
Collins says that insects could be a particularly important source of food in developing countries. "We have a very good diet in Great Britain. We rarely lack food. But in Africa this is not the case," she says, noting that many African countries quickly expand the production of insects to eat humans and animals.
In many ways, insect breeding is an example that efficiency has become high art. On the one hand, insects grow very quickly: they reach their maturity within days instead of taking months or years, and they can produce thousands of offspring.
Insects are many times more efficient in agriculture than farm animals, as they need less land and time to produce the same amount of food (Credit: Getty Images)
Insects are many times more efficient in agriculture than farm animals, as they need less land and time to produce the same amount of food
In addition, insects convert their food 12 to 25 times more efficiently into protein than animals, says Beynon. According to FAO, grilling need six times less food than cattle, four times less than sheep and twice less than pigs. One of the main reasons for this efficiency is that insects are cold -blooded and therefore waste less energy to maintain their body heat, says Alexander, although some species have to be raised in a warm environment.
Insect breeding also produces much less waste. "A large part of the meat is wasted in animals. We would eat the whole thing for insects," says Alexander.
Insects not only produce less waste, but can also live from food and biomass that would otherwise be thrown away, says Collins, and thus contribute to the circular economy in which resources are recycled and reused. Insects can be fed with agricultural waste, e.g. B. with the stems and stems of plants that do not eat people, or with remains of food waste. To complete the recycling chain, your excrement can be used as fertilizer for crops.
We associate insects with everything, just not with food. I mean with dirt, danger, with something disgusting, with something that makes us sick - Giovanni Sagari
Although eating insects has a high sustainability and nutritional value, it is still a long way to play a major role in western nutrition.
"We associate insects with everything, just not with food," says Giovanni Sagari, a researcher in the field of food consumption. "We connect you with dirt, danger, with something disgusting, with something that makes us sick."
But the attitude begins to change. By 2027, the market for edible insects is expected to achieve a volume of $ 4.63 billion (£ 3.36 billion), and European companies are investing in edible insects after admission by the European Authority of Food Safety.
Other foods with an image problem, such as B. lobster, have overcome the contempt of the people and have come into fashion
Other foods with an image problem, such as lobster, have overcome the contempt for the people and have come into fashion
"The perception of food changes, but only slowly," says Alexander. He refers to the example of the lobster, which was considered a highly undesirable food for many years and was often served in prisons before becoming a luxury material. "He was so abundant that there was a law that was forbidden to feed lobsters to prisoners more than twice a week."
Sagari says that the best commercial offer is to grind the insects into powder and use them in processed foods instead of serving them as a snack. Kitchen chief Andy Holcroft, who operates the first edible insect restaurant in the Bug Farm, agrees with this assessment.
"Instead of spreading entire insects on a salad ... I thought that if we wanted to enforce it in the mainstream essenta culture, it is best to incorporate it into the overall product as a percentage," says Holcroft.
"At the end of the day you can have the healthiest, most nutrient -rich and sustainable product, but if it doesn't taste good and people are ready to accept it, it will be much more difficult to convey that."