The buzz around insects - Macphie

Of all the trends to reach our shores none are more bizarre than the predicted trend for eating insects. They have been a staple in diets across the world in countries such as Thailand, Ghana and Brazil, 80% of the world’s population already eat them regularly.

The West has been slower to catch on, but far from being a novelty food item, we should really be sitting up and paying attention as it seems almost inevitable that they will be landing on our plates soon.

We have an abundance of food sources in the UK when it comes to protein such as meat, poultry, eggs, fish and cheese. But is all this choice necessarily a good thing? There are over 1900 species of edible insects, making them the largest and most diverse group of organisms on the planet, and what’s more, they might be the key to a more sustainable future for us all.

It is expected that by 2050 the world’s population will have reached 9 billion and the pressure this will put on land, water, forests, fisheries and other resources will be intense. Coupled with the fact that currently 1 billion people on Earth are insufficiently fed, insects look more viable than ever, especially considering there are currently around 40 tons of insects per human!

The nutritional benefits of insects are impressive. Whether in full, powder or flour form they are high in Omega 3 and 6, rich in protein and iron yet low in fat and calories. They also have a very long shelf life and use considerably less space and food to grow compared to other livestock.

Another added bonus is that insects can consume agricultural waste or plants which humans and farmed animals can’t. So they are recycling waste as well as increasing the protein supply. They also need less food. For example, cows eat 8g of feed to gain 1g of weight whereas insects need less that 2g of feed for the same weight gain.

However, mass farming insects does have its potential pitfalls. Once insect eating in the West becomes less of a novelty and more widely accepted as a protein source, there is a risk that insects, which have little to no carbon footprint at all, become as environmentally unsustainable as conventional farming. If they are freeze dried and shipped round the world for processing and sale they can quickly become another burden on resources. But it seems that, if we have open minds, the insect trend will be bugging us for quite some time.