In America, there is a stigma that bugs are dirty. It may surprise you, however, that insect farming is significantly more hygienic than other sources of protein production! While Americans readily embrace beef and chicken, they are quick to reject crickets and other bugs which are vastly more sustainable, humane, and are less likely to have food-borne illnesses found in other meat products. Farming insects is widely beneficial, so let’s take a deeper look at cricket farms and debunk this common misconception that eating insects is gross.
1. Sustainable Farming
Currently, crickets are the most widely farmed insects in North America. As such, it makes the most sense to start by investigating cricket farms. In our previous blog, “How Sustainable Is Your City”, we discussed the environmental benefits of eating crickets. Cricket farms can contain hundreds of millions of crickets in a finite amount of space. Crickets are naturally accustomed to living in large groups within small spaces, so this type of farming is natural for them. By taking advantage of their natural way of living, very little land is wasted farming an enormous quantity of crickets. A good bang for the farmers’ bucks! On the other hand, livestock accounts for 70% of agricultural land use. While commonly, crickets are been raised in bins, some farms are coming up with more innovative ways to house these bugs. Entomo Farms, the largest cricket farm in North America, houses the crickets in “free-range” style rooms with steadily available feed and flowing water. This results in a lower cost approach to production .
In addition to reducing land usage, cricket farming is more sustainable in terms of carbon emissions, water usage, waste production, and other resources. In one year, insect farming, when compared to the same amount of beef being farmed, produced a 67% smaller carbon footprint and consumed 92 % less water consumption. Crickets also require less feed than cattle: a quarter that of sheep, and half the amount for swine and chicken for the same amount of protein. This is in part due to the fact that crickets are ectothermic, meaning that they get their heat from the environment instead of using energy from the food they consume to create body heat like mammals.
Even cricket poop is useful in the farming process! Many farms are practicing a circular, self-sustained, no waste model using frass: cricket manure and sheddings. It can be used as a fertilizer to feed plants which are in turn used to feed the crickets. Unlike other animal poop, such as manure, it doesn’t emit methane which is harmful to our environment.
2. A Kinder Way to Obtain Protein
Modern methods for slaughtering livestock is often inhumane, unnecessarily painful to the animals. In contrast, harvesting insects is believed to be humane. Crickets are harvested at the end of their lifecycle and are chilled into a state of sleep for an extended period of time until fully unconscious. Once in this state, they do not regain consciousness. They are then frozen, roasted as whole crickets or ground up to be used as protein powder.
3. Cleaner and Safer Protein
In general, insects carry a significantly lower risk of disease. As with other animals, insects can carry microbes such as bacteria. However, most of the microbes present in insects are not harmful to humans. Aside from mimicking natural living conditions like temperature and climate, insects do not require feed additives or medicine to prevent health consequences unlike their mammal counterparts. Meat, like chicken, beef, or pork, can spread parasites and grow dangerous bacteria. Lest we forget the mad cow disease outbreak several years ago or the ever present danger of salmonella.
As the population continues to expand at an alarming rate, insect farming should be seriously considered as a way to meet our worldwide food needs. As mentioned, it is a more efficient and reliable source of protein than livestock and paradoxically more hygienic. By bringing light to the process of cricket farming, hopefully we can overthrow the notion that eating insects is filthy. Some forward thinking restaurants have already started to embrace using insects in their entrees and scientific studies have shown that insects farming is ideal for space travel. Clearly, insect farms are the way of the future. As it becomes more widely accepted by the public more bug-related innovations will surely follow.