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Why the U.N. envisions an insect-eating future

Posting in Food

One of the world's best restaurants is already innovating with insects as delectable delicacies. The rest of the world would be wise to follow, according to the United Nations.

Actually, two billion people around the world already supplement their diets with insects. It's convincing the other five billion that edible insects could be beneficial. In a new report, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization makes that case.

For one, the report says, there are entrepreneurial opportunities for all socioeconomic levels, from the wealthiest countries to the poorest. Also, they're a high protein, low-fat food, so they're healthy. Environmentally, they require less feed for the same amount of meat as other popular protein sources (1 kg of insect food needs only 2 kg of feed, cows need 8 kg for the same amount of meat). And, if the costs go down, they could be used for livestock feed.

“We are not saying that people should be eating bugs,” said Eva Muller, Director of FAO’s Forest Economic Policy and Products Division and co-author of the report, in a statement. “We are saying that insects are just one resource provided by forests, and insects are pretty much untapped for their potential for food, and especially for feed.”

Don't, but do.

So what's holding back this emerging industry? Surprisingly, it might not be the yuck factor but policies in many developed countries that prevent using bugs in food for humans.

“The private sector is ready to invest in insect farming. We have huge opportunities before us,” said Paul Vantomme, another co-author of the report, in a statement. “But until there is clarity in the legal sphere, no major business is going to take the risk to invest funds when the laws remains unclear or actually hinders development of this new sector.”

The best part (if these laws change)? With one million known species of insects -- more than 1,900 insect species are consumed by humans worldwide -- you'll never be starved for variety.

Bonus fun fact: Which insects do people around the world eat the most? Beetles (31 percent); caterpillars (18 percent); bees, wasps and ants (14 percent); and grasshoppers, locusts and crickets (13 percent).

Read the full report here.

Photo: Flickr/Grumbler %-|

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— By on May 13, 2013, 6:22 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure