Edible insects have always been part of human diets. As the world’s population continues to grow alongside food security challenges and environmental pressures, eating insects is being discussed globally as a possible solution.
The consumption of insects, or entomophagy, is practiced by over 2 billion people worldwide. Over 1900 species of insects have been reported to being used as food – popular insects include beetles, caterpillars, bees, ants, grasshoppers, termites and flies.
Insect farming (for food and feed) however is in its infancy, but is expected to grow along with demand for insects. For now, the majority of insects consumed are harvested from the wild. Some insect species are in peril – this is due to a number of threats including overharvesting, pollution, wildfires, and habitat degradation. Climate change is also expected to have an impact on the distribution and availability of edible insects.
Insects may contribute to food security in future and may also be able to address protein shortages and livestock meat is increasingly expensive. As livestock, poultry and aquaculture farming is associated with greenhouse gas emissions and large quantities of other wastes, insect farming may offer a low-carbon alternative which can be combined with biodegradation of manure and the composting and sanitizing of waste.
More research is needed to assess the sustainability of insect farming and to calculate the environmental impacts of harvesting and farming insects in comparison with traditional farming and livestock rearing practices. Studies also need to be conducted to show the impact of insect farming on food security and health; and an international legal framework is needed to govern the development and of production and trade in insect products for feed and food.
A global meeting is taking place today in Canada to discuss ‘Eating Innovation: the art, culture, science and business of entomophagy’ to strategize about how best to fill research gaps and develop standards for this new commercial food sector.