The edible bug business is set to take wing in the US and abroad as the EU clears crickets for human consumption — is this the low-cost, sustainable answer to soaring meat prices?
If you are an adventurous eater looking for alternative protein sources, the European Union has some good news.
Earlier this month, the European Commission authorized the larval form of Alphitobius diaperionus (lesser mealworm) for human consumption. The Commission also gave the green light to have partially defatted powder of Acheta domesticus (house cricket) sold on the market as so-called “novel food.”
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To be sure, these little creatures may not be appetizing for everyone. And the EU is not forcing this delicacy on every dinner table.
“It is up to consumers to decide whether they want to eat insects or not,” the body says.
As for the approval’s economic impact, the EU points out that insects as food is “a very small niche market” for its member states.
But the market for edible insects — both in the U.S. and globally — is growing faster than you might think.
Multiple market research reports show that the global edible insects market is on the rise with one report forecasting the market will be worth over $9 billion by 2030 — and North American companies and consumers are expected to play large part in that growth.
And it could be good for the environment.
“The environmental benefits of rearing insects for food are founded on the high feed conversion efficiency of insects, less greenhouse gas emissions, less use of water and arable lands,” the EU states, “and the use of insect-based bioconversion as a marketable solution for reducing food waste.”
According to a February article from food and lifestyle site Modern Farmer, edible insects such as mealworms create less than 1% of the amount of greenhouse gases that cows do.
“If a family of four got their protein from insects one day a week for over a year, they would save about 750,000 liters of water,” Dr. Jarrod Goldin, co-founder of Entomo Farms, which produces crickets in Canada, told Modern Farmer.
You can eat bugs in the U.S., too
Market research projects the U.S. edible insects market to grow to 1.6 billion by 2027 and over $4 billion by 2030 — a large jump from the $500 million the industry is currently worth.
Which means you won’t have to go to Europe to enjoy a nice mealworm salad.
Entomophagy — the practice of eating insects — has been around for thousands of years. It is estimated that there are two billion people worldwide who consume insects.
And even though the practice has not been widely adopted in Western cultures, you can get a taste of insects right here in the U.S. In fact, there could be a booming industry around this old-yet-new protein source.
In 2017, the founders of Chirp Chips — which makes high protein chips using cricket flour — went on Shark Tank and received a $100,000 investment from billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
On their website, Chirp Chips says that crickets are highly nutritious: “Crickets are a complete and (dare I say) perfect protein packed with: sustainable protein, prebiotics, B12, iron, calcium, fiber, and amino acids.”
Chefs are also embracing this new culinary delight. In just California alone, there are more than 30 restaurants that have insects on their menu.
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Protein is getting expensive
The EU’s approval of two insect species as human food came at a time of elevated food prices.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the FAO Dairy Price Index averaged 142.5 points in 2022, marking a 19.6% increase from 2021 and the highest annual average on record since 1990.
It’s a similar story when it comes to meat: the FAO Meat Price Index averaged 118.9 points in 2022, up 10.4% from 2021 and also marking its highest annual average reading since 1990.
In the U.S., soaring egg prices have been making headlines. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the average price of a dozen large Grade A eggs in a U.S. city reached $4.250 in December 2022, more than doubling the $1.788 consumers were paying a year earlier.
Does that mean bargain hunters can turn to insect-based protein as an alternative?
“Although rearing insects is technically feasible, a large constraint is that production can be more expensive than the production of traditional food and feed sources,” the FAO says in a report, noting that current insect farming is mostly small-scale and caters mainly to niche markets.
Despite those constraints, advocacy group The International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed (IPIFF) is forecasting an increase in production of edible insect products to 260,000 tonnes by 2030 from a current production of only a few thousand tonnes.
And the FAO still sees the potential for insects to play a bigger role in the food industry.
“Current research suggests that insects can often be a more sustainable and cheaper alternative when external costs from harvest, production and transportation such as fresh water, greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption are factored into the total costs of conventionally produced food,” it says.
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