Could eating bugs become mainstream in the future? With increasing concerns surrounding food shortages and supplying enough for everyone to eat, as well as those looking to eat more sustainably, many are starting to approach eating bugs as a solution to this issue. Eating bugs is a fairly well-known meat alternative but has yet to become popular enough to replace livestock as the main source of protein and other nutrients. 

What Is Eating Bugs As A Meat Alternative?

The concept of eating bugs as a meat alternative is fairly well-known, but a major reason why it is being considered a suitable option is thanks to it being a protein-rich food source. A 2012 study published in the journal PLOS ONE compared the environmental impacts of livestock and mealworms and found mealworms to be a more sustainable source of protein.

Using insects as food could potentially improve global food security and malnutrition problems, especially in developing countries. Many insect species are densely packed with important vitamins, fats, and proteins; queen termites, for example, are given to undernourished children in some African countries because of their nutritional density. Many developing countries that have populations suffering from calorie deficiency could benefit from the high-fat content of insects. 

A major reason why insect farming and production as a meat alternative would be helpful is that insect cultivation uses fewer resources than producing meat and thus has a lower carbon footprint. Crickets produce up to 80% less methane than cows and 8-12 times less ammonia than pigs, according to a study by researchers at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that has a global warming impact 84 times higher than CO2 over a 20-year period. Ammonia, meanwhile, is a gas and air pollutant that can cause soil acidification, groundwater pollution, and ecosystem damage. Farming insects worldwide would free up vast amounts of land currently used to farm animals and produce feed for livestock. Replacing half of the meat eaten worldwide with mealworms and crickets has the potential to cut farmland use by a third, freeing up 1,680 million hectares of land, equivalent to around 70 times the area of the UK. This could slash global emissions, according to a study from the University of Edinburgh.

Additionally, insects are 12 to 25 times more efficient at converting their food into protein than animals. Crickets need six times less feed than cattle, four times less than sheep, and two times less than pigs, according to the FAO. One of the main reasons behind this efficiency is because insects are cold-blooded and therefore waste less energy maintaining their body heat, says Alexander, though some species need to be reared in a warm environment.

Insect farming also produces much less waste. The insects themselves can also live off food and biomass that would otherwise be thrown away, such as the stems and stalks from plants that people don’t eat, or scraps of food waste. Their excrement can be used as fertilizer for crops. Not only are bugs edible, but they can also contribute to reducing food waste made by other industries. 

Additionally farming and cultivating insects for food could provide income and livelihoods to people around the world and contribute to local economies. Eating bugs could become increasingly popular as the global population increases, making it an attractive investment for grocery chains, food companies including Nestle and PepsiCo, and, potentially, massive fast-food chains including McDonald’s. The insect protein market could be worth $8 billion by 2030, up from less than $1 billion in 2019.

Additionally, eating insects is not a new trend, since roughly 2 billion people in 130 countries already regularly eat insects. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has encouraged consuming insects since 2003!  Around 2,000 insect species are eaten worldwide in countries across Asia, South America, and Africa. In Thailand, heaped trays of crisp deep-fried grasshoppers are sold at markets, and in Japan wasp larvae – eaten live – are a delicacy

Despite the environmental and nutritional benefits eating bugs has, one major barrier to eating insects mainstream is cultural acceptance. According to a survey by the European Consumer Organisation, only 10% of people would be willing to replace meat with insects. While there are many people who already eat insects, mostly in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, bugs are more associated with being unclean and filthy rather than being consumed as food. There are also religious restrictions for some against eating insects, such as Judaism. However, these attitudes towards food as filth are starting to change. Canada’s nationwide grocery chain Loblaws has been stocking locally produced cricket powder since 2018. In order to compete, manufacturers will have to figure out how to successfully market bugs to consumers and have the insects taste at least as good as what they are meant to replace.

What Impact Could Eating Bugs Have Globally?

There are many efforts being made to promote and capitalize on the concept of eating bugs and make it more mainstream. One example of this is the existence of several small insect companies, such as the American cricket snack company Six Foods and Shark Tank-backed cricket protein company Chapul. Companies such as Nestle are also conducting research and development into various insect species. And, while PepsiCo said that it is too early to determine its long-term plan for insects, the company has selected insect snack brands to take part in its accelerator program for emerging brands. 

IKEA’s Bug Burger. Pictured in 

Another company called Burgs Foods produces insect products including an insect meat burger. Co-founder of Burgs Foods, Sander Peltenburg, aspired to create a product that “contains all the essential animal-derived nutrients at a fraction of the impact on the environment.”  IKEA also developed a similar product called the Bug Burger, which is made up of 20% mealworms, potatoes, parsnip, and beetroot. 

What Impact Could Eating Bugs Have In Canada & KW?

There are some companies that are not just developing bug meat for human consumption, but also for their pets! In Canada, Montreal-based Wilder Harrier started selling dog treats made with cricket protein in 2015 and dog food made with black soldier fly larvae in 2019. It plans to expand to launch a line of insect-based cat treats later this year and cat food in 2022 because of “a ton of demand,” said company co-founder Philippe Poirier. Wilder Harrier originally worked with animal nutritionists on insect-based products to solve a different problem — namely, the founders’ canines had allergies to common meats used in dog foods. Poirier said now about half its customers seek out the product because of their pets’ allergies and about half for environmental reasons.

Another insect-processing company, Aspire Food Group, purchased 12 acres of land in London, Ontario, Canada to construct the largest automated, food-grade cricket processing facility in the world. This facility includes technologies and energy-efficient systems for insect protein production, which will serve the demand for premium protein alternatives in the food and pet food markets. Aspire plans to employ 60 people at the new plant. Construction was scheduled to begin in August and be completed by the end of 2021. Though the future of bugs as a meat alternative is still in development to become mainstream, it is possible that it could take over as the main meat alternative for those wishing to eat more sustainably. This is especially the case as the world population and popularity of eating insects increases. Would you be open to trying to eat bugs as a meat alternative? Let us know by tagging us at @SustainableWat!

9 thoughts on “Research Recap: Eating Bugs As A Meat Alternative

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