Three forces are converging to change what the world will eat in the future:
- Continued population growth pushing the limits of farmland and water resources.
- Widespread economic austerity that seeks low cost and high resource efficiency in the food chain.
- Business models that can wrest a profit amidst forces 1 and 2.
A cornerstone of any diet is protein. The three forces listed above have brought protein to the world via practices that have been criticized or condemned. Most meats come from animals administered hormones, antibiotics and life in confined animal feeding operations. These confined environments are ripe for diseases were it not for rigid drug intervention. Dairy and poultry (egg) products are not immune to the applications of hormones, antibiotics and confinement.
I recall a statement from a dairy farmer: “If I had an acre of pasture for every cow in my dairy, I probably wouldn’t know what antibiotics are.” Unfortunately, farmland is now a top valued global resource – there aren’t enough acres.
When industrial farming cannot deliver protein within the limits of the three forces identified above – enter the realm of bugs and high tech.
“The trouble is that demand for edible crickets exceeds the supply (in the U.S.). Only a handful of companies are raising the chirpy insects, and they aren’t nearly as efficient as they could be, says Daniel Imrie-Situnayake, the co-founder and CEO of Tiny Farms, a startup based in Oakland, Calif.
Tiny Farms is looking to bring high-tech to raising crickets. According to Tiny Farms, there are four U.S. companies producing food insects and 27 U.S. companies marketing insect products. Tiny Farms argues that economics are on the side of crickets – for protein foods.
A popular economic consideration in the meat industry is the feed conversion ratio – how many pounds of feed needed for every pound of meat. Beef conversion ratios and range from 10 to 20 lbs. Pork conversion is a little over 3 lbs. Chicken conversion is around 2 lbs. Crickets need only 1.7 lbs. of feed for every lb. of meat. Right in there with crickets is tilapia with about the same feed conversion ratio. (The featured photo is of deep-fried crickets and other insects for human consumption in Bangkok, Thailand.)
Encouragement for insects as food came from a 2013 study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The study revealed:
- Insects form a part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people.
- More than 1,900 species of insects have reportedly been used as food.
- Insects are a nutritious and high in fat, protein, vitamin, fiber and minerals.
- Insects are being over-harvested in the wild – suggesting farmed insects.
Will confined animal insect operations mimic some of the excesses of meat cafos? Time will tell. (follow us here at Kelp4Less/News for breaking news on food developments).