Eating Insects

"John (the Baptist) had his raiment of camel's hair and a leather girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey." — The Bible, Matthew 3:4

Saint John the Baptist in the Desert  by Hieronymus Bosch c. 1489

Saint John the Baptist in the Desert by Hieronymus Bosch c. 1489

If locusts were good enough for John the Baptist, they're good enough for me. Although western countries have been slow to embrace insects as food, more than two billion people around the world eat upwards of 2,000 different insects. The most popular insects are crickets, grasshoppers, locusts, mealworms and ants. I am told that when fried in butter, dried crickets taste like shrimp. Toasted grasshoppers were offered by the cupful at Seattle Mariners games last year. More than 18,000 were sold in the first three games.The ballpark had to put a limits-to-order per game policy. You will soon be able to buy Chirps at your local supermarket — chips made from cricket flour.

I like watching butterflies. I understand the importance of bees in pollinating plants. But I have no problem with swatting flies, slapping mosquitoes and stepping on cockroaches. I remember poking sticks into ant hills just to watch the ants swarm out in seeming disarray. But, the least favorite insect award goes to the palmetto bugs, large flying cockroaches native to Florida. When a palmetto bug made the mistake of flying into my house it was met with no-holds-barred warfare. Peaceful coexistence was not an option.

Hold on! I have no plans to become an insectivore. There are no plans to start CleanInsect. But the connection between insects, fish and humans is pretty simple. Fish eat insects. And we eat fish. And, the role of insects in aquaculture is finally emerging. During the last three months, I have seen more articles in the seafood press about insects in aquaculture feeds than in the previous fifteen years.

Headlines read:

  • Insect-based aquafeed ingredient producer secures 40 million euro funding

  • Insect meal producer AgriProtein buys rival fly feed producer

  • Aller Aqua wins $2 million grant for insect-feed production

  • Insect meal investors see bright future for alternative proteins

  • Insect-fed trout now available to French consumers

  • Insect-meal producers' marketing strategies win Rabobank praise

  • French insect meal producer hails sea bass feed test results

  • French insect meal producer scoops $125 million investment

  • Insect protein project investments in 2018 dwarf previous years

Clearly, there's a buzz about insects!

By itself, the supply of fishmeal cannot meet the growing feed protein needs of the global aquaculture industry. In order for the aquaculture industry to grow, we need more renewable and sustainable protein sources. Vegetables were the first protein source to take pressure off forage fisheries. In 1990, 90% of the ingredients in Norwegian salmon feed were of marine origin. By 2013, that number was closer to 30% ( fish meal 18% and fish oil 11%). The forage fish dependency ratio for fish meal decreased from 4.4 to 0.7 in Norwegian salmon farming.

The very real and interesting opportunity is farming insects is a new industry, really in its infancy. We have the opportunity to "get it right" the first time.

Farming insects for aquaculture feeds holds great promise. Wild fish don't eat soy beans. The do eat insects. But, just like farming soy for aquafeeds, farming insects is not a silver bullet for the needs of expanding aquaculture. Insect proteins, like vegetable proteins, will be another arrow in the quiver of aquafeeds.

Insects are animals. Farming insects comes with its own set of animal welfare, environmental and social issues. The very real and interesting opportunity is farming insects is a new industry, really in its infancy. We have the opportunity to "get it right" the first time. We cannot achieve sustainable aquaculture based on unsustainable and poorly constructed feed supplies.

A key benefit to farming insects is the possibility of converting something that is potentially toxic into a safe form of protein. Farming insects will require intensive stocking density. Insects poop too (entomologists call it frass). What will happen to that? Farms must be biosecure. We don't want any transmission of pathogens or diseases into the environment. What about the source population? Do we harvest harvest native species for domestication or import exotic species? Escapes? We don't want farmed insects to colonize in the wild, becoming an invasive species

With significant interest from the investment community in insect farming, now is the time to consider these questions and plan ahead. We are only humans. We will make mistakes. But if we proceed cautiously, we have the real possibility of great success.

After that, we can put down the fly swatters and Vote With Our Forks!