Saturday, 14 September 2013

Delicacy or disgust: consuming insects for a healthier body and environment

It may be of great surprise to many that the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation is advocating a rise in the consumption of insects, targeting the “cultural bias” of the Western world. With obesity levels doubling to 500 million people since the 1980s, health concerns alone are a motivational force to implement these nutritious dishes. Comparable to the protein levels of minced beef per 100g (27.4g), caterpillar and grasshopper provide similar values (28.2g and 20.6g respectively), yet the time taken to convert insect food to protein can be up to 12 times faster than that of livestock. Additionally, insects consist of essential minerals such as iron, and healthy fats otherwise lacking in the typical western diet.

Insects also prove to be significantly less harmful to the environment than livestock such as pigs, due to the lower ammonia levels produced. Ammonia contributes to the long life greenhouse gas level of methane; once emitted it remains in the atmosphere for decades to centuries. Typically insects reproduce rapidly with a minimal carbon footprint – a far cry from the longevity involved in rearing cattle and the miles of land required to feed and transport them.

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Two billion people globally eat insects on a daily basis for their nutritious and convenience value. While this consumption occurs within the developing regions of Africa and Asia, the Western world seemingly turns a stiff upper lip to the possibility of incorporating these meals in their diets. If the UN is successful in promoting the health and environmental well-being associated with insects to the public, this may open agriculture and export opportunities to businesses in these developing regions.(BBC 2013 and Thomson Reuters 2013)

By Action 21 volunteer Ellen Kane