From: Jeremy Hance, MONGABAY.COM, More from this Affiliate
Published May 14, 2013 12:17 PM

Eat Insects To Mitigate Deforestation and Climate Change

A new 200-page-reportby the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) urges human society to utilize an often-ignored, protein-rich, and ubiquitous food source: insects. While many in the industrialized west might turn up their noses at the idea of eating insects, already around 2 billion people worldwide eat over 1,900 species of insect, according to the FAO. Expanding insect-eating, the authors argue, may be one way to combat rising food needs, environmental degradation, and climate change.

"It is widely accepted that by 2050 the world will host 9 billion people. To accommodate this number, current food production will need to almost double. Land is scarce and expanding the area devoted to farming is rarely a viable or sustainable option. Oceans are overfished and climate change and related water shortages could have profound implications for food production," the report reads. "To meet the food and nutrition challenges of today—there are nearly 1 billion chronically hungry people worldwide—and tomorrow, what we eat and how we produce it needs to be re-evaluated."

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Entomophagy, or insect-eating, may be one possible solution. Eating insects, farming insects, and turning insects into feed for livestock are three ways in which the largely-terrestrial arthropods could mitigate both growing food demand and environmental damage, according to the report. Currently, most insects are eaten directly from the wild or raised in small cottage industries, but the report urges research into scaling up insect farming for food.

"Insects are not harmful to eat, quite the contrary. They are nutritious, they have a lot of protein and are considered a delicacy in many countries," Eva Muller, the Director of FAO’s Forest Economics, Policy and Products Division, said in a statement.

Indeed, the report argues that insects—rich in fats, iron, and zinc, as well as protein—could become a healthy replacement for more mainstream meats, such as beef, chicken, and fish. The environmental benefits are huge: insect-farming would likely produce far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional livestock (for example only a few insect types produce methane). For example, pig farming produces 10-100 times more greenhouse gases per kilogram than raising mealworms.

Insects are also hugely efficient: on average insects require only 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms) of food to produce 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of meat, while cattle requires 17.6 pounds (8 kilograms) for the same amount of meat.

Perhaps most importantly insect farming would not require clearing of additional lands, which would undercut greenhouse gas emission due to deforestation, preserve threatened biodiversity, and decrease on-going land conflicts.

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