Insects. They’re what’s for dinner!

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With a rapidly growing population, world leaders are rightly concerned about providing enough food for everyone. Estimates suggest Earth’s population will reach 9 billion by mid-century, and it’s commonly accepted that world food production will need to almost double. The search is on for answers to this looming problem.

One potential remedy, according to a report this week from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), is edible insects.

“Insects offer a significant opportunity to merge traditional knowledge and modern science in both developed and developing countries,” according to the FAO report. The report says many insects contain the same amount of protein and minerals as meat and more healthy fats doctors recommend in balanced diets.

Around the world, humans eat more than 1,900 species of insects, mostly in Africa and Asia. In fact, estimates suggest 2 billion people currently eat insects. Studies suggest the nutritional value of some insects contain enough protein to rank with lean ground beef while having less fat per gram. Insects are also a good source of fiber and necessary minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium and zinc.

The FAO report also touts edible insects as a way to fight obesity and lower greenhouse gas emissions, while providing business and export opportunities for poor people in developing countries.

Regarding environmental benefits, the FAO report says insects have a high feed conversion efficiency. “Crickets, for example, require only 2 kilograms of feed for every 1 kilogram of bodyweight gain,” the authors say. “In addition, insects can be reared on organic side-streams (including human and animal waste) and can help reduce environmental contamination. Insects are reported to emit fewer greenhouse gases and less ammonia than cattle or pigs, and they require significantly less land and water than cattle rearing.”

Most of the insects harvested for food now come from the wild. However, the FAO says the concept of farming insects for food can become a reality. “In temperate zones, insect farming is performed largely by family-run enterprises that rear insects such as mealworms, crickets and grasshoppers in large quantities, mainly as pets of for zoos,” the report says. “They are mainly for consumption as whole insects or to be processed into meal for feed.” The authors note that current production systems are expensive, and that major challenge of industrial-scale rearing is the development of automation processes to make plants economically competitive with the production of meat from traditional livestock or farming sources.

The FAO also views insect production as a cash crop and employment opportunity for people in developing countries. Insects, the report says, “can offer important livelihood opportunities for people.” The gathering, cultivation, processing and sale of insects “can directly improve their own diets and provide cash income through the selling of excess production as street foods.”

To access the full report from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization on edible insects:

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John Nalivka    
May, 16, 2013 at 10:10 AM

This is why FAO has so much credibility!!

Oklahoma  |  May, 16, 2013 at 01:18 PM

I ate a bug once. totaled my bike.

in a drought  |  May, 16, 2013 at 01:17 PM

What a vision for humanity! No supermarkets filled with high-quality foodstuffs, and of course no delivery trucks either. Just locally produced insects available as "street food". What a dream!!!

May, 17, 2013 at 09:50 AM

As cattlemen, we need to spread the word to the media and the FAO that working with nature to produce beef sustainably on grass is the way to solve our protein deficit while preserving and renewing the fertility of marginal lands and building topsoil. Management intensive grazing, made possible by fairly simple and inexpensive modern technologies like portable solar electric fencing and water systems, is a way of mimicking nature. The enormous wild herd populations of bison, antelope, elk and other ruminants that once roamed freely across our plains states once did this job. Now that they have been crowded out, it will be up to cattlemen and shepherds to keep grasslands viable. Selecting the proper genetics to produce quality beef on grass, unfortunately nearly became a lost art during the feedlot era, when virtually all A. I.cattle were selected with DNA focused on grain conversion. It's time to shift our paradigm from the grain-fed model back to the grass-fed model, to observe nature's way, respond to the topsoil's need for grazing ruminants, adapt our genetics to grass finishing, and return domesticated ruminants to the land. To heck with learning to eat bugs! It isn't necessary. The human brain needs the complete complex quality proteins that grassfed beef can provide. In my opinion, fewer young madmen would be terrorizing our schools and streets if all children were raised with a few servings of quality grassfed beef each week.

in a drought  |  May, 17, 2013 at 12:32 PM

Ditto W.E., better still if those young madmen got a ltttle dirt and/or manure on their jeans and tennis shoes helping produce some valuable food stuffs; all while attaining an understanding of the dynamics of life, death and the hereafter. This kind of "dirt" will wash off with water; something not possible with the "dirt" they get all over themselves now.

kansas  |  May, 18, 2013 at 12:00 AM

We've had the Answer since 1973, and it was delivered unto us by no less than Charlton Heston & Edward G. Robinson. The answer is SOYLENT GREEN, people. People it is, SOYLENT GREEN! Really, it's not any worse than eating powdered maggots.

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