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What Are The Advantages And Disadvantages Of Eating Insects?

Balancing the advantages and disadvantages of eating insects requires a detailed consideration – as is the case with all
foods.  Notwithstanding all their nutritional and environmental  benefits, edible insects can also be associated with several food safety hazards.

In cultures that appreciate insects as valuable food, all kinds of insects have been collected for hundreds of years from the wild. But now, with rising interest in Western societies, farming insects for human as well as animal consumption is a growing sector. Their high fertility and rate of reproduction, high feed conversion efficiency, and rapid growth rates make insects viable and attractive candidates for farming.

In addition, they can be reared in fairly small spaces, making it feasible to raise them in rural as well as urban farm settings.

The Advantages of Eating Insects

Environmental Factors

Insect farming has low carbon, water and ecological footprints when compared to other livestock species, making them highly attractive from an environmental sustainability standpoint. The reasons are a high feed-conversion efficiency; the emission of relatively few greenhouse gases and relatively little ammonia; no animal welfare issues; and can be reared on organic side streams, reducing environmental contamination.

Health Benefits

There are numerous health benefits from eating insects. In general, edible insects are a good source of protein, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals, though the nutritional profile can vary widely among species. This makes them a potential food source for healthy human diets.

Animal Feed

hand with feed feeding chicken
Feeding animals with insects

The same aspects make them a nutritionally beneficial and sustainable source of feed for animals.

Taking all these factors together illustrate why insects are a good prospect to help address food insecurity issues related to a rising global population, without simultaneously harming the environment.

Already, close to 400 edible-insect-related businesses are operating in the Western world, producing a steadily growing range of insect food products ranging from protein powders, energy bars, confectionary, beverages and more substantial foods.

However, the benefits of this emerging food source must be weighed against all possible challenges: for instance, any food safety issues that could pose health threats to consumers.

The Disadvantages of Eating Insects

In our article here we address some of the major food safety hazards that you should be aware of:  including biological agents (bacterial, viral, fungal, parasitic) as well as chemical contaminants (pesticides, toxic metals, flame retardants).

It goes without saying that safe and successful insect production must include efforts to prevent, detect, identify and mitigate such food safety concerns.

Farming insects under controlled hygienic conditions and implementing sanitary processing techniques should reduce some hazards, such as microbiological contamination. However, when insects are harvested from the wild and consumed raw, food safety risks could be higher.

In a farming environment, an important area of food safety consideration is the quality and safety of the feed or substrates that farmers use for rearing their insects.

Special Considerations for Insect Farming

The use of raw materials that are alternative to conventional feed are being explored as potential substrates for mass production of insects. Some of these raw materials include food side streams such as food waste, agricultural by-products or manure from livestock farms. The high nutritional content and low cost of such side streams provide a means to enforce circular economy in the process, in addition to further reducing the environmental footprint and economic costs associated with insect farming.

However, as the nutrient content and food safety aspects of reared insects depend on the substrate, further studies and monitoring will be needed to determine the quality and safety.