The world population rises on an average of 83 million annually. The equation is simple: more mouths to feed equates to an increase in demand for food. However, the resources we have to procure a balanced diet are fixed. Maybe, thanks to Elon Musk, down the future, we might have another planet to cultivate crops and rear livestock in. But right now, that’s not an option we can fall back on!
While working on GMO seeds for bounty produce, and increasing fertility of arable lands are some ways to try keeping up with the ever-elevating headcounts, another way to increase food production would be to derive nutrition from already existing but untapped resources. And there comes, the insects-as-food industry.
Beginning this year, Europe’s food safety watchdog, the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) approved mealworms for human consumption. While consumption of insects is a popular phenomenon in Eastern Asia and in some parts of Africa, this is the first time, an insect has been approved for human consumption by the EU. Following this ruling by the EFSA, Austria and Germany already have issued special dispensations for insect-based snacks.
Now let’s have a look at mealworms in themselves.
Mealworms aren’t actually worms – they are larvae of a special type of beetle. The insect is high in fiber and protein and is a relatively sustainable way of consuming protein compared to beef or pork products. The low-carbon emissions of insect-based foods have made them a hot topic within the food industry for some time now. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), since insects can be farmed on a smaller area of land and fed with cheap or almost free feed like bio-waste, they are a viable alternative to the regular livestock. The UN agency also claims that rearing livestock like pigs can produce 10-100 times more greenhouse gases per kilogram than mealworms. In terms of value, the edible insects market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 26.5% from 2020 to 2027 to reach $4.63 billion by 2027. This February Parisian firm Ÿnsect scored a $125m funding round to scale up its animal-feed insect farming enterprise, breaking the insect startup funding record.
So where are we on the insects-as-food process now?
Food, more than just providing nutrition, has a profound psychological effect on people. It represents a country’s culture and changing what people deem fit to eat might require a lot of work.
For many people, eating insects is still a ‘yuck’ factor and it can be quite a task to get over an innate aversion to squirmy, crawly things. But industries that are planning to invest in this sphere hope that with time and exposure, this attitude might take a shift in the near future.
Also, there comes the problem of food allergies. Some studies show that insects have a high potential to trigger allergic reactions. Considering the fact that this is a relatively new arena of cuisine that countries are heading to, not many people might be aware of whether this cuisine suits their body. Thus, at least in the initial stages, people need to be cautious of the type of insects they consume.
So can just a ruling by the food safety watchdogs influence the minds of people?
We will have to wait it out and see!