Sustainability Column: Insect Farming and the Future of Sustainable Protein

Ethan Reiser, Maroon-News Staff

With the continued increase of the human population, the ever-greedy consumerism of the 21st century and the rapidly declining amount of viable agricultural land, there is a need to find an alternative to the conventional meat products that we use so often today. The demand for meat products is expected to rise to almost 73 percent by 2050 according to Meat + Poultry. This high demand, in combination with the aforementioned factors, calls for a drastic societal change. The production of conventional meat, including the raising of livestock, is also a large contributor to anthropogenic climate change. One of the many potential solutions for these issues is the utilization of insect farming as a source of food and protein.

Harvesting insects as food has many benefits. They are beneficial in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, energy, land use, water use and efficiency. One of the first issues that arises in traditional protein source farming is the gases animals produce. Insects also produce gases, namely CO2, CH4, N2O and NH3, but their levels of production are far lower than those of other sources. According to a report from the Agronomy for Sustainable Development (ASD), it was found that poultry products in some countries were associated with nearly 89 percent higher greenhouse gas emissions than crickets. The same report from the ASD found that chickens are responsible for 32 to 167 percent higher emissions than mealworms, while cattle emit almost 13 times more CO2 compared to mealworms.

Insects also use a fraction of the amount of land and water that other traditional protein sources use. It was found that one gram of protein from beef entails between eight and 14 percent more land than mealworms, and almost five times as much water. The storage and production of the insects themselves also take up little space, as only 0.2 percent of a production facility was used for the mealworms themselves, while the other 99 percent was used for the production and storage of their feed. Also, the water used for the mealworms in that facility was only a mere fraction of the water required to produce their feed.

While the environmental benefits are great, there are also risks in introducing this idea. The greatest environmental risks lie in the containment of these insects. If a species of insects, should they escape, pose a threat to humans, animals, plants or any other aspects of biodiversity, then they should not be used in the production of proteins. Facilities would also need to properly contain the species that do not pose a threat but would still be problematic to the public if they escaped.

The environmental benefits to utilizing insect farming as a source of protein are abundantly clear, while the risks and problems that are associated with them are minimal or easily avoidable. However, the largest problem with introducing this practice into the public today lies in the public perception of eating insects. In order for this to become a truly viable replacement for today’s current protein production, the public would need to alter its views of the consumption of insects and commit to fostering a more sustainable planet and lifestyle by accepting this practice.

Contact Ethan Reiser at [email protected].