If We Won't Eat Bugs, Our Cows Should

Nearly a year ago, at the end of a piece highlighting a new protein bar made with bug parts, I asked you fine readers if you'd ever eat food made out of crickets. Somewhat shockingly, an overwhelming 83.67% said you would. Unfortunately, I wouldn't expect to replicate those results across a wider cross-section of Americans.

People are grossed out by bugs for a variety of reasons, be it their alien aesthetics, or a programmed fear after messing with one too many beehives. But despite an increasing need to consume food that doesn't require loads of energy to create -- and bugs are the answer; crickets are twice as efficient as chickens in turning food into body mass, four times as efficient as pigs, and twelve times as cows -- it doesn't seem realistic that stores will be lining their aisles with bug parts anytime soon.

That said, we shouldn't just let the bugs go on flying around uneaten. We should be feeding them to our food.

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That's the solution from a new article in the medical journal Animal Feed Science. Their reasoning why we should be moving our livestock from a soy and fishmeal diet to a bug-based one is a lot like why we should be eating bugs ourselves.

For starters, they begin their paper with a scare stat: By 2050, the consumption of animal products will have increased by 60 to 70 percent. The reason this is frightening isn't about health, rather, rearing animals on that large a scale is killing the planet. Among the bigger reasons beef production is helping nudge climate change along is because of the massive energy spent on feeding cows.

Here are some numbers for you:

  • 19 percent of America's fossil fuel usage is from our food industry;
  • 23 million tons of chemical herbicides are used on our crops, 10 million of which is used on corn alone;
  • It takes 284 gallons of oil to grow enough corn to feed one cow;
  • It takes 15,415 liters of water to create one kilogram of meat, most of which is used to create the cow feed;
  • Oh yeah, we're using up such large quantities of soymeal and fishmeal, that the ongoing climate crisis will likely limit the amount available in the future.
The solution? Housefly maggot meal. Mmmm, mmmm! While it may not be the most appetizing thought to us, science says bugs have most everything the livestock needs to be healthy:
Unsaturated fatty acid concentrations are high in housefly maggot meal, mealworm and house cricket (60-70%), while their concentrations in black soldier fly larvae are lowest (19-37%). The studies have confirmed that palatability of these alternate feeds to animals is good and they can replace 25 to 100% of soymeal or fishmeal depending on the animal species.

Where insect meals fail, according to the research, is the delivering of calcium to the animals. But that can be fixed by supplements, or by even manipulating how the insects themselves are raised. The point is, the use of insects as part or all of an animal's feed is more environmentally friendly, cheaper, and provides a high percentage of the same nutrients that corn and soy-based feeds provide. (And whatever nutrients that are not there can be supplemented.) Meaning, it's time for this bug-based feed idea to get off the ground!

So, make sure not to get squeamish if you head to the store and see steaks with bold "insect-fed beef" labels on them. Buying them may help save the world.

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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