Insect farming is the practice of raising insects for agricultural purposes as well as human consumption. Insects bred in captivity offer a low space-intensive, highly feed efficient, relatively pollution free, high protein source of food for both livestock and humans. Societies all over the world have been eating insects in a practice referred to as Entomophagy for as long as some sources suggest could be 30,000 years. Insect farming is becoming increasingly viable as a source of protein in the modern diet as beef and conventional meat forms are very land intensive and produce large quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas.
Insects have a high nutritional value, dense protein content and micronutrient and probiotic potential. Insects such as crickets and meal worms have high concentrations of amino acids, vitamin B12, riboflavin and vitamin A. Insect farming is cheaper than other livestock farming and requires much less energy and space. Insects offer an economical solution to increasingly pressing food security and environmental issues concerning the production and distribution of protein to feed a growing world population. Insects can be farmed in minimal space, with far fewer inputs than cattle, poultry or swine. Insects become ready for consumption in roughly 3 weeks to two months. Hundreds of breeds of crickets, mealworms, locusts, beetles, wax moths and various other insects are used as pet food and fish bait all over the world. Farmed insects feed on a diverse organic diet, making them flexible and easily worked in to other agricultural systems where they can be fed agricultural waste. Worms turn the waste stream into high quality fertilizer that can nourish plants as well as feed in to aquaculture. Insects and other crops can support each other and provide a range of complementing benefits to farmers.
Cattle use 12 times the amount of feed that crickets do to produce an equal amount of protein. Crickets also only use a quarter of the feed of sheep and one half the amount of feed given to swine and chicken to produce an equivalent amount of protein. Crickets require only two pounds of feed to produce one pound of finished product. Much of this efficiency is a result of crickets being ectothermic, as in they get their heat from the environment instead of having to expend energy to create their own body heat like typical mammals do.
Insects are nutrient efficient compared to other meat sources. Locusts for example contain between 8 and 20 milligrams of iron for every 100 grams of raw locust. Beef on the other hand contains roughly 6 milligrams of iron in the same amount of meat. Crickets as well are very efficient when you compare nutrients. For every 100 grams of substance crickets contain 12.9 grams of protein, 121 calories, and 5.5 grams of fat. Beef contains more protein containing 23.5 grams in 100 grams of substance, but also has roughly 3 times the calories, and four times the amount of fat as crickets do in 100 grams. So, per 100 grams of substance, crickets contain only half the nutrients of beef, except for the iron which may be of benefit to menstrual women. High levels of iron are implicated in bowel cancer and heart disease.
Greenhouse gas emissions
The raising of livestock is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gases emitted. Alternative sources of protein, such as insects, replace protein sourced from livestock and help decrease the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from food production. Insect raising has negligible emissions compared to livestock, since no farmed insect species besides termites release methane, and none create ammonia.
Livestock raising accounts for 70% of agricultural land use. This results in a tremendous amount of land-cover change which destroys local ecosystems and displaces people and wildlife. Insect farming is minimally space intensive compared to other conventional livestock, and can even take place in populated urban centers.
Farming of popular insects
Among the hundreds of different types of crickets, the house cricket (Acheta domesticus) is the most common type used for human consumption. In many parts of the world crickets are consumed dried, baked or seasoned. Due to some distaste for insects, cricket consumption in many developed countries may take the form of cricket flour, a powder of dried and ground crickets which is easily integrated in to many baking recipes. Crickets are farmed for animal feed as well, since many reptiles, fish and birds consume them.
Crickets are usually housed in small (4' x 8') containers, furnished with simple items like egg cartons to provide shelter. Heat is a necessity for breeding crickets as they require temperatures around 90° Fahrenheit. House crickets live up to about eight weeks. Until they are twenty days old they are fed high protein animal feed, most commonly chicken feed, that contains between 14% and 20% protein. In the days before harvesting the crickets at around forty to fifty days old, they are often fed various vegetables, fruits and other plant matter. This is done to improve the taste of the insects and reduce the use of expensive, high protein animal feed. Crickets are normally killed by deep freezing, where they feel no pain and are sedated before neurological death. In some parts of the world crickets are baked or boiled.
Mealworms are the larvae of the mealworm beetle. The larvae emerge from the ground roughly four to 19 days after the female beetle lays her eggs. The eggs and larva must be kept at a temperatures of 75 to 80 °F (23.9 to 26.7 °C). It is important that the worms have sufficient ventilation. The mealworms must be kept on a proper bedding of wheat middling and things such as maize, cornmeal, which provide nutrients. Mealworms feed on dead insects and organic matter. Farmers often add fruits and vegetables to provide moisture and make the larva more plump for consumption. Mealworms are consumed by humans baked, fried, or fresh. Mealworms are also used as fish and reptile feed.
Wax worms are the larvae of wax moths. They are caterpillars that are used widely across the world for a variety of uses such as human and reptile food, fish bait, animal testing and even plastic degradation. Wax worms have high fat content, making them a valuable source of fat for many animals and insectivorous organisms. Wax worms are popular in many parts of the world due to their ability to live in low temperatures and their simplicity in production. Wax worms are bred by putting wax moths in a container often filled with ground bran, oatmeal, and cereal grains along with wax paper. The moths lay eggs that then become larvae. The wax worm caterpillars then feed on their bedding until they are large enough for consumption. Wax worms are eaten cooked, fried, fresh, or baked in to other things. They are also often used as a garnish. Wax worms are said to taste like pine-nuts and butter.
- Encyclopedia of entomology. Springer. 2006-01-01. ISBN 0792386701. OCLC 964770230.
- Joost,, Van Itterbeeck,; Harmke,, Klunder,; Nations,, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United. Edible insects : future prospects for food and feed security. ISBN 9789251075968. OCLC 893013301.
- van Huis, A.; Dicke, M.; Loon, J.J.A. van. "Insects to feed the world". Journal of Insects as Food and Feed. 1 (1): 3–5. doi:10.3920/jiff2015.x002.
- Martin, Daniella (2011-07-18). "What Do Bugs Taste Like, Anyway?". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-04-17.
- Humanity Needs to Start Farming Bugs, Popular Science
- Six-legged livestock: Edible insect farming, collection and marketing in Thailand, FAO
- Maybe It's Time To Swap Burgers for Bugs, NPR
- Bug farmer working to introduce insects to European diets, PRI
- Edible Insect Farming, FAO
- Eating insects: Sudden popularity
- Why Build a Business Around Bugs?
- Apartment Bug Farm Is A Big Business, Modern Farmer
- U.N. Urges Eating Insects, National Geographic
- Insects Are Food
- Breeding Meal-worms
- Insect Food Emissions, The Guardian
- One Green Planet
- Insect farming research & edible insect species list
- Professional Insect Rearing. Strategical points and management method, Books on Demand, ISBN 9782322042777, November 2015.