One of the main reasons for using insects as one of our sources of protein and nutrients is the ecology promoted by everyone. Ecology is often mentioned in connection with insects, but is it even based on truth? What about insects and their oft-mentioned ecology, and if insects really are that ecological, what are the ecological benefits of eating insects?
Insect and ecology. Do they even go together?
Only a minority of people who are truly insiders see into the breeding of insects for human consumption. The only information that reaches us all anymore is the mediated information often presented by blogs that focus specifically on the sale of insects for human consumption.
There are a lot of question marks over the environmental friendliness of insects. It is widely believed that the farming of edible insects is more ecological than the farming of common species of animals for the consumption of their flesh. But nothing has to be so black and white.
If we were to break it down step by step, we'd take the comparison of crickets, mealworms, and to compare broilers and pigs. Let's break down their impact on the ecology in terms of the amount of food an individual animal eats.
Cricket/Mealworm/Broilers/Hog VS Ecology
In the case of crickets, a cricket is capable of producing 1 g of its weight from 1.6 g of food under ideal conditions. That ratio doesn't sound too bad, does it? However, these values are measured under ideal conditions and, as we can all understand, conditions will never be constant throughout the breeding season.
However, the problem arises when conditions are less than ideal. Then the cricket is able to consume up to three times more food than under the ideal conditions mentioned above. The ratio is therefore 1:4.8, which does not sound very ecological (at least in terms of food).
So if the cricket doesn't come out of this comparison very well, how does the mealworm (the larva of the mealworm) fare? A sweat worm larva will eat approximately 2 g of food per 1 g of its weight under normal conditions. Again, this is under ideal conditions. Under less than ideal conditions, it can be as much as 5 g of food per 1 g of body weight.
We are not just talking about insects here. It is important to compare edible insects with more common sources of meat that are commonly consumed in our conditions. Let's take the example of pig (pork) first. Under ideal conditions, a pig has a 1:3 to 1:4 ratio to 1 g of its weight. Again, this is under ideal conditions, so it may come out slightly worse at other times.
With broilers, it's a little better. Here, under ideal conditions, the ratio is 1:1.7, which works out very similar to the meat we get from crickets, and that's a very interesting finding. At least from this comparison, chicken and cricket meat look to us like pretty much the same burden on our planet. However, we also have to take into account the antibiotics and drugs that are added to chicken, and then again, the crickets, which do not have these gadgets added to their food, win out all the way.
Is insect farming really that ecological?
For this comparison, we will use as a source a study conducted by Swedish experts called Matthew Law and Asa Berggren. These experts looked at different ways of keeping insects. Their data is based primarily on a study of the environmental impact of farming (water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and soil loading). Of course, they compared these values with conventional livestock to make the data easier to visualize for the general public.
One of their biggest concerns is the escape of insects from insect farms. As insect farming expands, this could result in their farming reaching areas where the species does not normally live. This could lead to dangerous overpopulation in the local landscape when they escape, leading to its destruction.
As an example, we can imagine an event straight out of one of the greatest books: the Bible. Here the "plagues of Egypt" were sent to Egypt as a warning to Pharaoh, and one of them was the overpopulation of locusts. Because of them, everything in the fields was destroyed and consumed, leaving the inhabitants without enough food. This could also happen in areas where locusts do not normally live, but artificial breeding would take place.
Another issue is ensuring that there is enough food for the insects. With small numbers, this is very difficult to estimate. However, if their breeding were to become widespread, it could become a problem to provide the amount of food that the insects need to grow and for us humans to have on our plates.
There is, however, the possibility that the insects would feed on scraps that neither we nor the animals consume. In this case, it would be incredibly ecological farming and would bring great benefits to the whole world. However, this is still a song of the future.
As I am sure everyone is aware, there are laws in the Czech Republic regarding the keeping of farm animals and their stress and cruelty. However, these laws do not take insects into account at all. The law only covers vertebrates, and insects are treated as creatures that do not feel pain, do not have feelings and cannot feel stress. However, we should all agree that even though we know very little about these creatures and they are really almost insignificant to us human beings, these animals may just be even more receptive to these stimuli than our entire human race.
A final, but certainly very important, finding that the aforementioned experts from Sweden have come to in their research is the diseases that insects have. Insect farming is only just beginning in our conditions, so the possible diseases that insects can carry are probably not known, and if they are, they probably do not know how to treat them.
As an example we can look at broiler diseases. Here, there are conversations about their diseases every day, and the chickens are given medicines, antibiotics and the necessary food supplements to keep them really healthy and not transmit diseases between themselves. The other side of this matter may be the residue of drugs and antibiotics in their meat. However, that is another topic. The main point is that diseases in larger animals are known about and dealt with, and in insects there are perhaps not even records of them, let alone any way of dealing with the problems.
Are there any positives to keeping/consuming insects?
Leaving aside the possible disadvantages of eating, breeding and spreading them, insects also have many advantages and positives that are often not even matched by farm animals.
- As such, insects are a great source of protein (over 60% of the protein content in crickets), a source of healthy fats, and a source of minerals and important vitamins that our bodies need for their proper development.
- Insects produce far fewer greenhouse gases than conventional livestock. Thus, by spreading them and replacing conventional meat (pork, beef, chicken) with them, we can at least slow down global warming and thus "heal" our planet. Livestock production alone is responsible for up to 14.5% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions at this time.
- Insects can help us with many diseases of civilisation. Indeed, a large proportion of diseases today are caused by our diet. This diet is characterised precisely by the fact that it contains little fibre, and so we can often suffer from problems such as constipation or digestive problems. Fortunately, there are many insects that contain really high amounts of fibre and can easily help us from these problems.
- Insects also don't need so much water and space, so not only will we save already very precious water, but we will even save space that will be needed for future habitation.
As you can see, raising and eating insects can have its negatives. Nothing is as clear-cut as it may seem. However, not enough is known about insect farming, so many of the negatives are often just speculation.
What we do know is that eating insects is good for our health. So even if we were to consume insects for this "selfish" reason alone, it would only be a small step for humans, but if more people took the same step, it would also be a big step for humanity, and that's really not insignificant anymore!