Crickets have been farmed in Thailand for almost 20 years © PA Images
Crickets have been farmed in Thailand for almost 20 years © PA Images

Crickets 'more sustainable than chicken'

9 June 2017

Scientists have verified that crickets are a more sustainable food source than chicken.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen compared the process of farming the insects in Thailand with broiler chicken production, measuring 15 environmental impacts, to reach their conclusion.

The impacts included global warming potential, resource depletion and eutrophication, which occurs when an ecosystem becomes excessively enriched with nutrients.

In most cases cricket production had a lower impact than broiler chicken production because the insects convert feed into animal protein more effectively.

“This research is very timely, as there are many different stakeholders interested in farmed insects. Many people have seen insects as a means of lowering the environmental burden of animal production,” said the study’s lead author Afton Halloran of the University of Copenhagen's Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports.

“Insects, in many cases, can be comparable to meat and fish in terms of nutritional value. The fact that we have shown here that they can be produced more environmentally sustainably than meat means that they represent a massive potential for lowering the impact of the food production.”

In Thailand crickets are already commonly eaten, with an estimated 20,000 farms scattered throughout northern parts of the country.

The study said cricket farming could become even more environmentally friendly if farmers used alternative foodstuffs to the commercial chicken feeds they currently give crickets to make them grow quickly.

“While crickets consume plant matter in the wild, farmers started to use commercial chicken feeds because they saw that the crickets grew faster,” said Halloran. “Unfortunately, the production of feed ingredients like maize and soy can have detrimental effects on the environment.”

Students at the Department of Entomology at Khon Kaen University in Thailand are looking into other feed sources for farmed crickets, such as different kinds of plants and waste products.

More than 2,000 insect species are regularly eaten worldwide, with most of these species harvested from the wild, but around nine insect species are farmed for food and feed, including grasshoppers and mealworms.

However, the research did not go as far as to vouch for the tastiness of crickets, which are often fried in a wok, seasoned and served with beer.

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