NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania — We are all familiar with one of TV’s biggest reality game shows “Survivor.” Originally aired on CBS, this show has kept U.S. viewers coming back for 28 seasons to see contestants outwit, outplay and outlast one another. Since its premiere in early 2000, contestants have conquered risky and even cringe-worthy challenges, but throughout all the seasons, one of the most well-known challenges is the bug eating challenge.
Although most of us watching at home would never even think about eating a bug, approximately 2 billion people practice entomophagy, the consumption of insects. More than 1,900 out of the known one million species of insects are consumed by humans every year, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The FAO released the Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security report during the 2013 Forests for Food Security and Nutrition conference to outline the numerous health, environmental and livelihood benefits of eating insects, including how this food source could help the future’s rapidly increasing population. The Pew Research Center estimates that the global population in 2050 will reach 9.6 billion people, which is a 38 percent increase from the current population.
According to the Director of FAO’s Forest Economics, Policy and Products Division Eva Muller, “If we think about edible insects, there’s a huge potential that has essentially not been tapped yet. Most insects are just collected and there’s very little experience in insect farming, for example, which is something that could be explored in view of a growing population.”
Although a hearty meal of bugs may gross many of us out, insects are actually viewed as a delicacy in many other countries. Some of the most popular insects to consume in developing countries include beetles, wasps, caterpillars, ants, grasshoppers and crickets. Along with being a delicacy, many of these insects also have significant health benefits. They are full of essential nutrients like protein, calcium, iron and zinc. These nutrients are typically found in chicken, beef, fish and pork.
When compared to livestock, insects have a more positive effect on the environment as they emit less greenhouse gases and ammonia, require less feed to create protein and can be fed on an organic waste stream. Clearing land is not necessary for the process of rearing insects since it is not considered a land-based activity.
Insects also have several positive economic and social benefits, including the fact that both rural and urban people can gain a new source of income through this mini-livestock. Insect rearing is a great option for multiple economic classes because not much technology or money is required to invest in this process.
The Edible Insects report stresses that more work is still necessary in order for insects to become part of the typical human and animal diet. This includes the improvement of mass-production technologies, the exploration of potential allergies and the enactment of legislation concerning insect rearing.
Through all of its research, the FAO has proven that despite their size, these small but mighty insects benefit our health and the entire planet. To view the entire Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security report, visit http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3253e/i3253e00.htm.
– Meghan Orner