The latest weapon in the UNs fight against hunger,global warming and pollution might be flying by you right now. Edible insects are being promoted as a low-fat,high-protein food for people,pets and livestock. According to a 200-page UN Food and Agriculture Organisation report released last Monday,they come with appetising side benefits: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and livestock pollution,creating jobs in developing countries and feeding millions of hungry people in the world. The agencys Edible Insect Program is also examining the potential of arachnids,such as spiders and scorpions,although they are not strictly speaking insects.
Two billion people eat insects already,largely in Asia,Africa and Latin America,UN FAO report says. Some insects may already be in your food. With demand for natural food colouring as opposed to artificial dyes increasing,a red colour produced from the cochineal,a scaled insect often exported from Peru,is being used to put the hue in a trendy Italian aperitif and an internationally popular brand of strawberry yogurt. Many pharmaceutical companies also use colourings from insects in their pills.
PACKED WITH PROTEIN,
FULL OF FIBRE
Scientists have found that red ants,small grasshoppers and some water beetles pack (gram-per-gram) enough protein to rank with lean ground beef while having less fat per gram. Bored with bran as a source of fibre in your diet? Edible insects can oblige,and they also contain useful minerals such as iron,magnesium,phosphorous,selenium and zinc.
Beetles and caterpillars are the most common among the more than 1,900 edible insect species that people eat. Other popular insects for food are bees,wasps,ants,grasshoppers,locusts and crickets. Less popular are termites and flies,according to the UN data.
Insects on average can convert 2 kg of feed into 1 kg of edible meat. In comparison,cattle require 8 kg of feed to produce a kilogramme of meat. Most insects raised for food are likely to produce fewer environmentally harmful greenhouse gases than livestock.
DONT SWAT THE INCOME
Edible insects are a money-maker. In Africa,four big water bottles filled with grasshoppers can fetch a gatherer $20. Some caterpillars in southern Africa and weaver ant eggs in Southeast Asia are considered delicacies and command high prices. Insect-farms tend to be small,serving niche markets like fish bait businesses. But since insects thrive across a wide range of locationsfrom deserts to mountainsand are highly adaptable,experts see big potential for the insect farming industry,especially those farming insects for animal feed. Most edible insects are now gathered in forests.
LET A BUG DO YOUR RECYLING
A $4 million European Union-funded research project is studying the common housefly to see if a lot of flies can help recycle animal waste by essentially eating it while helping produce feed for animals such as chickens. Right now farmers can only use so much manure as fertiliser and many often pay handsome sums for someone to cart away animal waste and burn it. A South African fly factory that rears the insects en masse to transform blood,guts,manure and discarded food into animal feed has won a $100,000 UN-backed innovation prize.