Insects on menu of future

HOP TO IT: Roasted crickets are a good source of eco-friendly protein.TASTY dragonfly and grilled cricket accompanied by roast beetle or barbecued cicada: all of this and more could be on the menu of the future, in the view of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome.

Insects are already part of the daily diet for many in Africa, Asia and Latin America, particularly when meat and fish are scarce and expensive.

The United Nations agency is now calling for people in the West to get over their disgust at the thought of eating these protein-rich creatures and for the creation of more “insect farms” in south-east Asia among other places.

Until now the international trade in edible insects has been insignificant.

With hundreds of millions of people going hungry around the world, and for various other reasons, the FAO is supervising research into the almost 2000 edible insects known on Earth.

While around 2 billion of the world’s population have insects as part of their regular diet – including bees, ants, caterpillars and aquatic bugs – these are found in Europe and North America only on exotic markets and the plates of immigrant communities.

Consumers, politicians and investors need to be made aware through information campaigns of the advantages of eating insects, the FAO believes.

“Insects produce fewer greenhouse gases and ammonia than cattle and pigs. They need considerably less land and water,” it says.

Growing them on special farms would also create ecologically sustainable jobs.

Insects are a good source of unsaturated fatty acids, iron, minerals and vitamins. Another advantage is that they are frequently collected or cultivated in areas where pesticides are not used, particularly in forests.

“The Thais eat maggots, locusts, cockroaches and various other things as snacks, usually fried and often enjoyed with a beer,” says Moritz Janosch, 32, a German businessman with considerable experience in the country.

Janosch acknowledges that he is wary of trying the snacks, “as I’m not that adventurous”.

The FAO points to the advantages of gathering insects in the forest.

“For millennia people have been eating insects, although today this is sometimes made to look ridiculous, old-fashioned and unhealthy,” the FAO’s Hiroyuki Konuma says.

He has long backed putting insects on the menu.

Thailand is a major centre of insect farming, with thousands of people employed in the sector. Laos and Vietnam are other countries where harvesting insects is more than just a sideline. Edible scorpions are fattened in China, and the mopane caterpillar is big business in southern Africa.

The FAO points to the increasing number of mouths to be fed, and the costs in terms of environmental destruction and use of resources resulting from the production of more conventional protein sources, such as beef or pork.

Crickets need much less in the way of feed than cattle, pigs or sheep. They can often be fed on organic waste matter.

“The ecological footprint of insects is smaller than with conventional livestock,” the FAO says.

It also notes that given the big biological difference between humans and insects, the transmission of disease is unlikely.

That contrasts with the repeated scares over flu viruses transmitted to humans from pigs and poultry. DPA

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