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Monday, February 4, 2013

Why Insects Should Be in Your Diet

Source: The Scientist Magazine

Insects can be produced more sustainably and with a much smaller ecological footprint than vertebrate livestock. They are very efficient at transforming a wide variety of organic matter into edible body mass. For example, cows consume 8 g of feed to gain 1 g in weight, whereas insects can require less than 2 g of feed for the same weight gain. This is partly due to the fact that insects are poikilothermic, or “cold-blooded,” and thus use less energy to maintain body temperature. This efficiency reduces the amount of animal feed needed to generate the same amount of “meat,” cutting the amount of water used for irrigation; the area of land dedicated to growing food for livestock; and the use of pesticides that can be expensive, harmful to the environment, and pose a risk to human health.

Additionally, many insects, such as flies, crickets, grasshoppers, and beetles, can consume agricultural waste or plants that humans and traditional livestock cannot. By converting biomass that is not consumable by humans into edible insect mass, insects don’t compete with the human food supply, as do vertebrate livestock such as cows and chickens, which are primarily fed with grain and corn.

Insects are also easy to farm in large quantities using very little space. Compared to many other animals, insects have substantially higher fecundity—they reproduce more prolifically—and shorter life spans, so they can be grown rapidly. For example, house crickets can lay 1,200–1,500 eggs in a 3- to 4-week period, whereas beef cattle require about four breeding animals for each animal marketed. Insects also use much less water than vertebrate livestock because they obtain hydration directly from food. Finally, insects give off lower levels of greenhouse gases than cows.

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