The U.N. food agency has recommended insects as a nutritious, ecological food source
The United Nations has new weapons to fight hunger, boost nutrition and reduce pollution, and they might be crawling or flying near you right now — edible insects.
The Food and Agriculture Organization on Monday hailed the likes of grasshoppers, ants and other members of the insect world as an underutilised food source for people, livestock and pets.
A 200-page report, released at a news conference at the U.N. agency’s Rome headquarters, says 2 billion people worldwide already supplement their diets with insects, which are high in protein and minerals, and have environmental benefits.
Insects are “extremely efficient” in converting feed into edible meat, the agency said. On an average, they can convert 2 kg (4.4 pounds) of feed into 1 kg (2.2 pounds) of insect mass. In comparison, cattle require 8 kg (17.6 pounds) of feed to produce a kilo of meat.
Most insects are likely to produce fewer environmentally harmful greenhouse gases, and also feed on human and food waste, compost and animal slurry, with the products being used for agricultural feed, the U.N. agency said.
Currently, most edible insects are gathered in forests and the extant insect farming is mostly family-run and serves niche markets.
“Insects are everywhere and they reproduce quickly,” the agency said, adding they leave a “low environmental footprint”.
They provide high-quality protein and nutrients when compared with meat and fish and are “particularly important as a food supplement for undernourished children”.
Insects can also be rich in copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium and zinc, and are a source of fibre.
The agency noted that its Edible Insect Program was also examining the potential of arachnids — such as spiders and scorpions — although these are not, strictly speaking, insects.
University biologists have analysed the nutritional value of edible insects. Some of these — such as certain beetles, ants, crickets and grasshoppers — come close to lean red meat or broiled fish in terms of protein per gram (ounce).
The report noted that some caterpillars in southern Africa and weaver ant eggs in Southeast Asia are considered delicacies and command high prices.
If you are one of those people who get queasy at the thought of consuming insects, it may interest you that you might already be eating them — we often ingest bugs inadvertently.