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Edible Insects – A Good Alternative to Meat?

We might all be familiar with soy sausage or seitan burger.  But recently, you can find snacks and fast food products made of insects in the supermarkets, too. Especially in the Netherlands and the UK, which offer a wide range of insect products. FOUR PAWS wonders: “Is this a valid alternative to plant-based meat?”


Eating insects is nothing new
Insect consumption by humans, which is called entomophagy, has always been a worldwide dietary practice, especially in many developing and tropical countries as in Africa, Asia or Latin America. While the notion of eating insects in the Western World is usually met with a feeling of disgust and rejection, the perception is slowly changing in some countries.


There are millions of insects living on our planet of which about 1900 insects are consumed worldwide. The most preferable edible species are beetles, caterpillars, bees, wasps, grasshoppers, mealworms, silkworms and ants. Insects are an important source of protein and other nutrients. Their nutritional value does not differ from that of meat such as chicken, beef, pork, and fish. Depending on the species, insects are rich in amino acids, vitamins, fatty acids, minerals and micronutrients such as copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, selenium, and zinc. Besides all these advantages, zoonotic diseases, allergic reactions, presence of parasites, and microbial hazards such as salmonella or campylobacter can occur with insects and need to be considered as a risk for human health when eating them.


Farming insects
Insect farming has ecological advantages and economic benefits over conventional meat production. Insects require less feed in comparison to farm animals because they are cold-blooded. They can have a recycling role for agricultural waste, as they can be reared on organic material or organic waste. In general, insect farming produces far less greenhouse gases and ammonia than farm animals, having a beneficial effect on the climate.


Insects Are Sensitive Beings
Although a lot of species are mostly unexplored, there are enough indicators for mental processes in insects. Insects have a social life, can solve problems and have a way of intraspecific communication. One good example are bees, which have the so-called “dance-language”, a dance that tells the other worker bees where they can find pollen and nectar. In fact, little is known about pain and discomfort in insects, but taking into consideration the above-mentioned mental processes, it cannot be assumed that insects have no awareness of pain. Therefore, insect farming needs to be properly managed to guarantee their welfare. This also includes specific killing methods to minimize their suffering.


What FOUR PAWS says
Besides the environmental and nutritional advantages, insects are still animals and living beings. From an animal welfare perspective replacing one animal with another is not the right solution. Especially in rich, Western countries where people have a wide variety in regards to their dietary preferences, enough proteins can be gained from plant-based alternatives with vegan being the most animal-friendly diet.