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Scottish Field : Food for thought

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Scottish Field

Food for Thought

As sources of protein go, insects may not be the most appealing but its time for us Scots to get over ourselves and give entomophagy a try, says Neil Lyndon from Scottish Field magazine

Yuk!’ exclaimed my wife when I told her I was writing this article. ‘Surely you don’t want to make us all eat insects?’

Insects such as locusts are eaten in many countries across the globe

Channelling the voice of unadventurous eaters is not her usual habit. In this reaction, however, my wife’s instinctive reaction was exactly that which many friends have voiced. Her revulsion helps to explain why ours is one of the relatively few countries in the world which cannot calmly consider the benefits of entomophagy (as the eating of insects is loftily named).
To some degree, this reaction is autonomic. ‘Nobody trusts an exoskeleton,’ as Thor Hanson observes in his brilliant book Buzz, ‘particularly since they so often go along with faceted eyes, waving antennae, and multiple scrabbling legs.’

Meanwhile, in the West, insects are automatically associated with the more repulsive and insanitary habits of houseflies and, at the same time, we are naturally resistant to the new, especially when it comes to what we put in our mouths. These reactions are not shared elsewhere in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, some two billion people in 113 countries consume some of the 1,900 species of edible insects that exist in the world. Locusts are frequently on the menu in the Bible. Grasshoppers are known as ‘sky prawns’ in Thailand. Silkworm pupae are common street food in Korea. And so on.

In most of these societies, of course, the insects that are eaten occur naturally and are caught in the wild. However, the intensive farming of edible insects – such as mealworm, crickets and black soldier fly – for animal and human consumption is spreading rapidly across the world and its benefits are being widely recognised.
In an age of widespread anxieties about our exploitation of the planet and our food security, the farming of insects for protein looks like a no-brainer. It takes 50 times less water, 100 times less land and produces 10 times more efficient food conversion than rearing cattle.


‘In an age of anxieties about the planet and food security, the farming of insects for protein looks like a no-brainer’


Those are not the only environmental benefits of this business. The insects can be fed on food waste – such as from supermarkets – that would otherwise go to landfill. And their excreta, called frass, makes a rich fertiliser that can be sold for use in gardens. This looks like win, win, win for the planet.
The attractions of this circular case have impressed themselves on numerous profit-minded corporations around the world who are throwing up industrial plants for the production of insects faster than a locust can turn out eggs. They are coming our way.

The largest insect production site in the world was opened in northern France in 2020, capable of producing 15,000 metric tons of insect protein and 5,000 of insect oil a year. Meanwhile, a 100,000 sq ft facility backed by public and private funds is about to open its doors in Quebec, which will make it the biggest in North America. Worldwide, it is reckoned that the industry will be worth £8bn by 2030. ‘That’s a distinctly conservative estimate, in my view,’ says Desmond Cave, Business Development Director of Beta Bugs at Roslin, a company which sells Black Soldier Fly eggs. ‘The global potential for this business is absolutely vast.’ While others are seizing the opportunity, the UK is lagging behind.

The Food Standards Agency generally recognises the case for entomophagy, but the regulations are in a muddle. As things stand, for instance, meal from dried insects can be incorporated into food for humans but may not be fed to poultry or pigs. Eh?

Farming black soldier flies at Beta Bugs

Retailers are reluctant to enter the field so long as the UK regulations remain a minefield. Lidl in Ireland has just launched burgers made from soy and dried mealworm larvae but has no plans to sell them here. Farmed trout fed with insect meal will be sold in a French supermarket chain this summer but you won’t be finding them on the fish counter at your local Waitrose. Unexpectedly, given the potential contribution of entomophagy to the drive for net zero, it seems that governments both north and south of the border have given little thought to the farming of insects for animal and human consumption.

That is particularly surprising given the focus on the climate and the environment of the two parties which make up the Scottish Government. However, the Scottish Green Party said that it’s not an area where they have a policy, so they would rather not comment, while the Scottish Government itself took three weeks to reply to my query about their policy in this area, and then came back to tell me that I would need to submit a Freedom of Information request.

Black soldier flies in cages

I interpreted that as an admission that they also have no policy on a subject that is assuming growing importance given that it addresses vital concerns over emissions, food security, land use, water use and the recycling of wasted food. Our politicians are not unique though – my wife’s reaction shows that they are in the same place as most of the electorate. Scotland, in general, has yet to wake up to the case for entomophagy. Beta Bugs in Roslin does not supply a single customer who is farming insects in this country. My wife may not be happy to hear this but I am tempted to become one of the first.



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