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Cricket Flour and Larva Burgers: You Might Be Surprised by Where You Find Insect Protein!

Updated: Mar 29

Insects grow quickly, they eat waste, they don’t take up a lot of room and they contain a lot of vitamins and protein.  And don’t forget, they have a great shelf life! 

According to entomologists, there are at least 1,600 edible insects.  Beetles, larva, caterpillars, grasshoppers and crickets are found in markets and on tables around the world, but until the last decade there hasn’t been serious talk about insect based food options.

A growing population, food security, soil health, methane emissions, and the general health of the environment have prompted a larger conversation around insects as a primary food source.. Investors poured over $76 million into insect based food companies in 2022 and another $14 million last year. 

Where is the greatest demand for this food option and who might reap the most benefits?

Environmental Benefits of Insect Based Food

A big benefit of insect-based food is a reduced burden on land used to raise corn. On average, 30% of the U.S. corn crops is used for ethanol, 30% is exported, 30% is fed to livestock, and only 10% is consumed by humans. If insects become a viable option for human or livestock consumption, then these percentages could shift, resulting in less land being used for crops.

Insects could be a sustainable option that meets nutritional needs and also has minimal impact on the environment. From what we understand now, insect food production would be simpler than producing other protein like soy isolate and beef, potentially decreasing the use of fossil fuels in food production.

Another angle to consider is that insects don’t create a whole lot of waste. Instead, they can eliminate waste. And, they don’t drain resources either as they use significantly less water, feed and land than livestock.

Am I Going To See Bugs in My Food?

Though you can find insects in lots of markets around the world, the US and many European countries have been slow to get excited about the idea. It’s estimated that only a quarter of the American and European populations are open to the idea. Why opt for a beetle burger when you can eat one made of beef? 

Some restaurants have tried to make insects trendy by serving grasshopper tacos or guacamole seasoned with ground up ants. But, for the most part, attempts to create demand have fallen short. For one thing, people tend to choose what tastes the best and bug infused brownies or burgers haven’t matched the familiar flavors people expect.

For another, Western diets are not experiencing a nutritional void that insect based foods would fill. We can get recommended amounts of protein from meat options and plant options, all of which are available at the nearest grocery store. For the trend to truly take off, demand really needs to be created to show people a void or need that could be accommodated by insect based food products.

Even if demand was created and more people opted to incorporate insect protein, it’s likely that that would look like one meal a day at the most, or at best, a daily protein infused snack. It might take more than that to make a significant impact on farm land, crop use, and fish farms.

Can Livestock Eat Insect Based Products?

The livestock industry uses efficiency as its filter for a lot of decisions. Traditionally, corn and soybeans have been the best options for feeding livestock. Less of this feed is needed for livestock to put weight on compared to other options. Less feed means lower costs and fewer days to market, creating a lower environmental footprint. 

So far there isn’t enough data to say insects are the better option, which will slow producer adoption. Some studies have shown that cattle are very equipped to process insect supplements. In fact, the insect protein supplements had the same effect as other protein additives in boosting the hay consumption of cattle.

If insect based livestock feed research proves that it is a viable option for the millions of cattle fed in the United States everyday, the next question will be, how much does it cost? Could it be possible to find an option that is good for the environment and cost effective for farmers and ranchers?

Overall, it appears that people are even more open to livestock eating insects than they are to eating them themselves.

Petfood- the Perfect Place for Insect Protein?

Perhaps the best option is to use insect protein in pet food. Dogs and cats eat the same thing at every meal so a significant portion of their protein could come from insects. Unlike livestock animals, family pets don’t have any weight gain goals that have to be achieved in a specific amount of time. Using insect protein in this industry would also meet a growing demand for more nutritious pet food options, and possibly not experience purchase price objections from consumers.

It will take 5-10 years to establish methods and infrastructure solid enough to launch insect based protein companies on a scale large enough to support feeding millions of cows. For now we observe other countries with successful farming operations like China, Thailand, Kenya and Uganda.

With millions of dollars funding research on the insect option, we are likely to see the topic pop up in sustainability, food security and supply chain stability conversations over the next few years.

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