Our global population is rising rapidly; by 2050 there will be 9 billion people living on earth. With the rise in population comes worries about the sustainability of food production. Livestock consume valuable greenhouse gases and require large amounts of water to raise, meaning that they have a very large ecological footprint. This leaves us with the question: where can we find an animal protein source that has less of an impact on the earth?
Many have trumpeted crickets and other insects as the eco-friendly protein source of the future. Even the United Nations promotes the movement. Proponents argue that insects are a viable solution because they emit far fewer greenhouses than livestock, they consume less water, and they are thought to be able to eat almost anything, even organic waste. They propose raising them in a sustainable manner on organic side streams, such as manure, pig slurry, and compost.
A new study from the journal PLOS ONE, however, shows that we may not be as close to being able to use insects sustainably for protein as many expected. Researchers raised crickets on five different diets and then measured the protein yielded from each, and were disappointed by the results. One group was fed corn-, soy-, and grain-based feed, and the other group ate food and crop waste. The crickets that consumed processed food residue were no more efficient than poultry at producing edible protein, the majority of the group that ate straight food waste were dead before harvest, and the grain-based diet crickets were only slightly more efficient than chickens. The results mean that crickets do not contain enough protein with current methods to be superior to other animals for our nutritional needs.
Although insects may not be a large-scale fix to our food needs yet, many are still optimistic about their potential in the future. They are also an important cultural food source, and are considered a delicacy in many parts of the world. (natalie gilmore)