Suzuki liked this idea so much, he in­vested in the com­pany

Trad­ing meat con­sump­tion for in­sects could dras­ti­cally re­duce our en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print

Bayview Post - - Currents - 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.

Could the same six-legged crea­tures that form the back­bone of ecosys­tem ser­vices also help min­i­mize our 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.

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. 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 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.

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 ento-tech­nolo­gies (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. 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.

Peo­ple can get an­i­mal pro­tein from in­sects in­stead of beef, pork and chicken

David Suzuki is the host of the CBC’s The Na­ture of Things and au­thor of more than 30 books on ecol­ogy (with files from Louise Hé­nault-Ethier).

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