The Challenge: the search for new sources of protein
Traditional livestock farming has been on a sharp rise in the past 30 years, almost doubling in volume and expanding rapidly in evolving economies. According to FAO, the livestock sector contributes 30-40% of the global agricultural GDP, and 1.3 billion people depend on it for their livelihoods. Of these, about 600 million are poor smallholder farmers.
Today’s livestock systems also contribute heavily to greenhouse gas emissions and occupy almost one-third of the planet’s ice-free land area – a share that continues to grow. Additionally, livestock manure applied as fertilizer can run off with rain into local waterways, triggering algal blooms. Consequently, we have to find new methods of tapping alternative, underutilized sources of protein to establishing resilient food systems and improving food security.
Insects are the most diverse group of organisms on Earth, essential to keeping the biosphere running. Despite signs of decreasing numbers, there are an estimated ten quintillion individual insects currently alive, constituting one of the largest biomass groups of terrestrial organisms. Globally, more than 2,000 insect species are harvested from the wild and consumed. Yet only about ten of these can be domesticated and farmed.
Introducing insect-based protein in our food and animal feed is an important road to reducing the environmental effects of traditional livestock farming. Overcoming cultural, technical, and legal obstacles, as well as addressing health concerns, must be part of clearing the way. As the EU “Novel Foods” legislation has gradually pulled back its regulations, Europeans will be allowed to explore this new protein alternative as of 2021.