By Peter Alexander
Insects are a nutritious food source that can be produced more sustainably than conventional livestock. While eating insects is common in many world regions, in western cultures it is more likely met with disgust.
The consumption of insects has slowly increased as the benefits become widely discussed. More than 2,000 edible species have been identified. But would incorporating insects into our diets really reduce the environmental footprint of food production, and can this be achieved?
Insects are high in fat, protein and nutrients. This varies between species and lifecycle stage, however the protein content of insects is frequently 40% to 60%. Insects also provide all of the essential amino acids required for human nutrition.
Adult crickets are 65% protein by weight, which is higher than both beef (23%) and tofu (8%). Insects are also high in minerals such as copper, iron and magnesium. It is therefore of no surprise that insects are consumed by humans in many world regions today.
Insects are far more efficient at converting their feed into energy than conventional livestock. Adult crickets and mealworm larvae need 5–10 times less feed than cattle to produce the same weight gain. Insects are also cold-blooded, so do not use their metabolism to heat or cool themselves, further reducing energy and food use.
A larger proportion of the animal can also be eaten compared with conventional livestock. Only 45% of the cattle and 55% of a chicken is consumed on average. For insects, the whole larva and 80% of an adult cricket can be eaten. Insects also reproduce more rapidly than vertebrates, with many generations possible in a year.
To provide the same nutritional value, insect cultivation therefore uses a fraction of the land, energy and water used for conventional livestock farming.
To produce a kilogram of protein, mealworm larvae emit 14kg of CO2eq, far less than the 500kg of CO2eq emitted on average in beef production. To produce the same amount of protein, mealworm larvae cultivation uses 70 times less agricultural land than beef.Click here to see more...