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Would you like termites with that?

Posted by on August 7, 2013

Lauren Hoskin is a recent graduate in microbiology. She is interested in a career in science communication and writes for her own blog, Science Says as well as for the Student Hubs blog.

Many problems faced by humans do not have simple answers, especially in the area of food security. How will we feed nine billion people in 2050? How do we make sure food is distributed equally? The list goes on. But there is one solution to the ever-growing problem of meat production which could help to reduce carbon emissions.

PROteINSECT, launched in early 2013, is a Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA)-led project which has started to look at the idea of insects as animal feed. Rearing fly larvae on a range of organic waste and using them as a source of cheap and nutritious protein for animals would help to use waste effectively and improve land efficiency.

The PROteINSECT project is just one way of using insects to provide food, but insects have been used as a source of direct human nutrition for centuries in other countries, and it seems we are one of few nations too fussy to eat them.

There are around 1,900 edible species of insects. From Botswana to Japan, caterpillars are canned, termites are fried, beetle larvae are boiled, grasshoppers are sautéed and crickets are candied. In Colombia, roasted leafcutter ant abdomens are eaten as a popular cinema snack.

It may take a while for the squeamish British public, of which I am one, to start gobbling grasshoppers, but is it really so different from eating seafood? To address this problem, current work is looking to produce insect-derived protein products, ‘bug-burgers’, which disguise the insect protein as conventional meat.

Since insects are highly nutritious and have a smaller carbon footprint than other livestock, they would act as a great alternative to carbon intensive meat, as well as a great alternative to rainforest-slashing soya as animal feed. Bring on the bug burgers?

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