The potential of insects as an alternative source of protein is promising. But this week, Swedish scientists warned that more research is needed on the environmental impact of mass rearing insects before large-scale production begins if we want to avoid a potential environmental disaster.
Writing in the Trends in Ecology & Evolution journal, the researchers explained that there is currently an “overwhelming lack of knowledge” about insects, especially basic things like what they need for housing and food, how to manage their waste and which are the most suitable species for mass rearing.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that more than 1,900 species of insects are edible, but the researchers believe that we first need to get answers to those basic questions, so we don’t “risk creating an industry that replaces one environmental problem with another.”
Both nutritionists and scientists have advocated insects as being a sustainable and cheap source of protein to feed our constantly growing population. They also have benefits like being high in vitamins, fiber and minerals. Insects produce fewer greenhouse gases than pigs or cattle, and they require a lot less land and water.
Businesses have already started to enter the world of edible insects, producing things like sweet potato soup made with bugs, burgers made of buffalo worms and DIY insect farms. But this might be too much too fast, according to Asa Berggren, a conservation biologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the paper’s co-author.
“How do you produce the feed they eat, where do you produce it, what do you use? There are so many questions,” Berggren said. “Are we going to use fossil fuels for heating and cooling the facilities (where insects are grown)? What about transportation?”
She went on to say that one of the biggest threats to both natural and production systems is invasive species. There could be a big problem if insects are accidentally released in a country where they are imported.
Other concerns include whether or not farmed insects that get sick will transmit diseases to consumers, and there is also a question of animal welfare.
Berggren admitted that there could be a lot of insects that are good for us to eat, but further research is important.