The global consumption of insects

Below are some examples of insect consumption in different regions:

  • Australia and Papua New Guinea: the Aborigines in Australia consume various larvae, such as the witchetty grub, raw or cooked. In Papua New Guinea, the beetle larvae known as sago worms are a delicacy.

  • Africa: In various African countries, especially Nigeria, insects such as termites, grasshoppers and caterpillars are regularly eaten. Termite pupae are also known as Bushman rice and are an important part of the diet in Central Africa.

  • Asia: There is a long tradition of eating insects in Japan, especially in the mountainous regions. Popular methods of preparation include deep-frying, grilling and cooking with various sauces. In China, a total of 324 insect species are used as food, animal feed or for medicinal purposes. The consumption of insects is socially accepted and popular in China.

  • Mexico and Central America: In Mexico, insects are traded as food at higher prices than high-quality meat. Examples include the addition of "agave caterpillars" to the agave schnapps Mezcal and the preparation of cooked ant larvae as an appetizer. In Guatemala, chocolate-covered grasshoppers are a popular sweet.
  • South America: In the Amazon region of Peru, suri larvae, the larvae of a weevil, are eaten. In Colombia, fried "big-ass ants" are considered an aphrodisiac.

  • Europe: The consumption of insects is not very common in Europe and is often associated with feelings of disgust. However, there are some eating traditions, such as certain cheeses in Sardinia and France, in which the larvae of a fly develop. In recent years, however, there has been a growing interest in eating insects and there are a few restaurants that offer prepared insects.

There are therefore a large number of countries and regions around the world where eating insects is part of the dietary tradition. In some regions, insects play an important role in food security and provide a sustainable source of protein. Nevertheless, the consumption of insects in Western cultures remains a challenge that is associated with prejudices and cultural taboos.

The potential of insects

With a growing world population and increasingly demanding consumers, producing sufficient quantities of livestock, poultry and fish protein is a serious challenge for the future. Around 1900 insect species are consumed worldwide, mainly in developing countries. These insect species provide high quality food and feed, have high feed conversion rates and emit low levels of greenhouse gases. Some insect species can be farmed on organic side streams, reducing pollution and converting waste into high-protein feed that can replace increasingly expensive feed ingredients such as fishmeal. This requires the development of cost-effective, automated mass farming systems that deliver a reliable, stable and safe product. In the tropics, sustainable harvesting must be ensured and farming practices promoted to valorise food resources. In the western world, consumer acceptance will depend on price, perceived environmental benefits and the development of tasty insect-derived protein products.

Alternative source of protein

Rapid urbanisation in developing countries, particularly in Asia, is leading to changes in the composition of global food demand. Affluence is a major factor in the increase in global meat consumption. Per capita meat consumption in high-income countries is expected to increase by 9% by 2030 (from 86kg per capita per year in 2000), while China is expected to increase by almost 50% (from 49kg per capita per year in 2000); this will also increase the demand for coarse-grained feed for livestock, by 48% and 158% respectively. The demand for grain and protein-rich feed is closely linked to meat consumption: for every kilogramme of high-quality animal protein produced, livestock are fed around 6 kg of plant protein. The increase in world market prices for the most important agricultural crops will lead to a price increase of more than 30% for beef, pork and poultry by 2050 compared to 2000. The same study shows that the situation could be exacerbated by climate change, which could lead to an additional price increase of 18-21%. The shortage of food could become even more serious if the increasing demand for biofuels and declining agricultural productivity are taken into account: The productivity of land and labour has developed significantly slower from 1990 to 2005 than from 1961 to 1990. The increase in food and feed prices in the future will encourage the search for alternative protein sources, such as cultivated meat, algae, vegetables and mushrooms and mini-livestock.

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