Incorporating insects into our diets and food production can have a good impact on the planet. (submitted)

Column David Suzuki: Save the planet; eat an insect

People sometimes get bugged by insects, but we need them.

By David Suzuki

People sometimes get bugged by insects, but we need them. They play essential roles in pollination, combatting unwanted agricultural pests, recycling organic matter, feeding fish, birds and bats, and much more. They’re the most numerous and diverse animals on Earth and form the base of many terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

Our admiration for these critters goes beyond their ability to adapt, their fantastically diverse colours and shapes, and their accomplishments that create dramatic impacts on our world’s functioning.

Could the same six-legged creatures that form the backbone of ecosystem services also help minimize humanity’s environmental footprint? Could insects revolutionize the way we eat and produce food?

We will be nine billion people on Earth in 2050. To feed that many, we should double food production, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. But the way we currently produce food weighs heavily on the environment.

If food were a country, it would rank third behind China and the U.S. as one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters. We eat too much meat, and its production is disastrous from an environmental standpoint. In Canada, we’re struggling to curb water pollution related to corn and soybean production for livestock feed, and aquaculture relies on wild-caught fish to produce meal and oil feedstock.

Although vegetarian diets would suffice to feed humans and drastically reduce our environmental footprint, meat consumption remains a firmly established tradition. But if we bartered beef, pork or chicken for a handful of insects, the environmental impact of our animal-protein intake would drop dramatically. According to the FAO, 18 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions are linked to animal husbandry. Emissions from insect production are negligible in relation to the amount of protein produced. Insects are especially effective at converting their food because they’re cold-blooded and therefore waste less energy to keep warm.

Although few people in Canada have integrated insects into their regular diet, nearly half of us have tasted an insect, according to a survey conducted in Quebec. According to the study, males are significantly more likely than females to bite into an insect like a fly larva!

To reduce our environmental footprint, not everyone needs to incorporate these crisp, delicious arthropods into their diet. Changing the diet of farmed animals could also help. People who may not want to ingest insects themselves would likely have little problem feeding their pets insect-containing kibble, or eating farmed animals like chickens raised on insect-based feeds. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has already licensed fly larvae to feed farmed salmon and chickens. (Full disclosure: My suggestion to use insects to feed carnivores like salmon inspired a company in which I have invested that harvests insects grown on food waste.)

Emerging entotechnologies (from the Greek root entomo, for “insects”) bring together applications that focus on what insects do best. For example, organic residues can be fed to fly larvae, which can then be used as livestock feed. Black soldier fly larvae have voracious appetites for fruit and vegetable residues and could help improve the way we handle this high-quality organic waste. It’s a way to give a second life to stale food, rather than sending it to compost bins or biogas plants. Considering nearly 45 per cent of fruit and vegetables produced worldwide is wasted, this is not a fringe idea.

After feeding the hungry with the highest quality unsold portions of our food, we could feed our breeding animals with insects raised on organic residues from grocery stores and restaurant kitchens.

With clean organic residues from urban agriculture, we could also feed humans! In Montreal, the Blanc de Gris farm grows grey oyster mushrooms on recovered coffee and brewery residues. But we can take it even further. Several tonnes of mycelium (akin to the “roots” of fungi mixed with growth substrate) are discarded from the company’s mushroom production each year. A research project by the David Suzuki Foundation, Montreal Biodome, Concordia University, Université du Québec à Montréal and Université Laval is finding out if mealworms could grow on this mycelium. The first results are promising. In fact, entotechnology and entomophagy (eating insects) research is blooming in Canada.

You can join the research on edible insects by participating in a survey by Concordia University PhD student Didier Marquis.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Science Projects Manager Louise Hénault-Ethier, a post-doctoral researcher on entotechnologies.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Just Posted

VIDEO: Young QMS cast shines in ‘Giants in the Sky’ musical

Kids find that sometimes being brave is good, but you still need supportive friends

Andrea Rondeau column: The internet has changed how we cover breaking news

If there’s ever anything you think we’ve missed, please feel free to contact us and let us know.

Sarah Simpson column: My history with bees

My dad is allergic to bees.

Strong showing for host school at Shawnigan Regatta

Shawnigan second in overall aggregate, tops U17 girls standings

T.W. Paterson column: Downtown ‘silo’ has become a Duncan landmark

“Imagine the Leaning Tower of Duncan! It would be the Ninth Wonder of the world

Trans Mountain pipeline: How we got here

A look at the Kinder Morgan expansion, decades in the making

Passersby help rescue occupants of home as fire breaks out in Courtenay

Coffee run turns into fire rescue for pair of men

Giant beer tanks arrive in new B.C. home city

Molson Coors tanks finish river journey and move to overland trip in Chilliwack

VIDEO: Pipeline supporters rally across B.C.

Five simultaneous events organized by month-old Suits and Boots lobby group

VIDEO: B.C. woman praises burn fund after boat explosion in 1978

White Rock woman was 16 years old when she was left with second- and third-degree burns

B.C.’s Ryan Craig, Vegas Golden Knights chase history

Local product behind bench for expansion team’s incredible championship run

CP rail workers give strike notice

Employees could walk out as early as Tuesday at 7 p.m. PT

RCMP investigating after gunshots fired in Courtenay

Comox Valley RCMP officers are investigating after gunshots rang out in Courtenay… Continue reading

Most Read