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Eat the Beetles? Insects, Climate Change and Food for Thought
Sustainability

Eat the Beetles? Insects, Climate Change and Food for Thought

By James Tehrani January 11, 2021

Some will say they’re squeamish, some will say they’re just “delish” …

It might bug you to learn this, but the demand for edible insect products, either whole or in powder form, is apparently on the rise, according to a recent report from global analyst firm Meticulous Market Research.

Without a doubt we love listening to the Beatles, watching the film “Beetlejuice” and even reading the old “Beetle Bailey” cartoons, but the idea of eating beetles? Not so much.

Still, there’s nothing mealy-mouthed about the report that predicts the annual market share for these types of products could hit $4.6 billion by 2027. This is what we call a true “swat” analysis.

Anyway.

You’re probably asking yourself: Why is Spark covering this type of buzz?

That’s simple. It’s because the projected growth in the edible insect marketplace is at least somewhat attributable to environmental impacts on food throughout the supply chain.

In a news release explaining details of the report, the analyst firm wrote: “The edible insects market is mainly driven by factors such as growing greenhouse gas emissions from livestock and poultry, the high nutritional value of insects, low environmental impact over their entire life cycle, and low risk of transmitting zoonotic diseases.”

Animal Stories

What we eat not only impacts our environment but also the animal population at large.

A report that appeared in the Guardian explains that only 4% of the mammals on the planet are wild, and since the beginning of human civilization, 83% of the wild mammal species have been lost. The food choices humans make have dire consequences for us, the planet and the animal population in general. On that point, Paul Falkowski, a molecular bioscience professor at Rutgers University, told the Guardian: “Humans are extremely efficient in exploiting natural resources. Humans have culled, and in some cases eradicated, wild mammals for food or pleasure in virtually all continents.”

Not only is our food supply chain for humans and animals at risk, but also it is contributing to global warming profoundly. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that anywhere from 21% to 37% of global greenhouse emissions are directly attributable to the food system when you factor in things like storage, transportation, packaging, emissions from livestock, etc. And if global temperatures continue to rise, animals and plants are at serious risk. One study published by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) found that up to 30% of the 538 species the researchers studied could be extinct by 2070 if Paris Agreement targets aimed at limiting global warming are not met.

Can I Have a Bite?

The demand for food, which is already in short supply in some parts of the world, will continue to be strained as the world population continues to grow. The Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota predicts that crop production would have to increase by 60% to 100% by 2050 to accommodate the additional 2 billion people who could be inhabiting the planet by then. That type of added demand for food production could exacerbate environmental problems even more when one considers current environmental challenges to the food supply, such as increased carbon emission levels, rising sea levels and lack of new land to accommodate additional agriculture.

This is why innovation is so important, and why companies and countries could turn to things like 3-D printing, vertical farming, digital agriculture and materials science to help meet consumer needs. Oh, yes, and insects, too, apparently.

 

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The obvious holdup to a swarm of new insect-related products infiltrating the marketplace is that “ick” factor, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t. As Meticulous Market wrote, “[T]he non-standardized regulatory framework, psychological and ethical barriers to insects as food, and allergies due to insect consumption are expected to restrain the growth of this market to a certain extent.”

Of course, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has been touting the benefits of consuming insects for years, especially because the creatures are highly nutritious and a healthy food source that can help reduce environmental contamination.

In case you were wondering, eight of the most crunchable insect critters, according to Crickster, are: crickets, mealworms, black soldier fly larvae, buffalo worms, grasshoppers, ants, silkworms and cicadas. On top of that, the UN says there are actually more than 1,900 edible insect species, including several types of beetles, but, we know, that’s a lot to chew on.

While the food supply will play a key role in a sustainable tomorrow, there are clearly many other factors to take into consideration. Companies, of course, play a huge role in how our future will unfold, so making smart decisions now and improving environmental performance could pay huge dividends down the road for organizations and, more importantly, the world at large.

In other words, there’s no time to just listen to the sound of crickets chirping in the background. Whether you choose to munch on them? Well, that’s up to you—at least for now.

 

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