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Why eating bugs is a really bad idea

The human population is expected to climb toward 10bn by mid-century; far outstripping already strained global food supplies.  One proposed means of accommodating these extra people without causing huge famines and mass migrations is to turn to the one lifeform that we have so far been too grossed out to contemplate.

In an article in the Louth Leader, Simon Forrester, chief executive of the British Pest Control Association offers insects as the solution to an otherwise dire human predicament:

“Amid the threat of global warming and many other demands on our resources, ‘meat’ as we know it is likely to become more of a luxury and, as demand for protein grows, the price will increase.

“But the answer could, almost literally, be right under our feet. Insects make up more than 80 per cent of all animal species and, as there are an estimated 200 million to two billion insects per human, there’s a wide range of potential menu items.”

While eating foods derived from insects sounds like a sensible response to growing food shortages, it is merely another example of humanity kicking the can down the road in the hope that someone else will solve our problems.

In the 1950s, scientists embarked upon the “Green Revolution” – the first wave of genetically modified (through selective breeding) crops based on strains of grains – rice, wheat and maize – that could not evolve naturally.  In nature, tall grains are best suited to survive.  But the energy and water needed by the plant to grow tall deprives it of the energy and water needed to produce big grains.  By selecting and promoting shorter varieties, the scientists succeeded in overcoming famine and massively ramping up global grain production to the levels we enjoy today.

Result! You might think.  But not so fast.  Humanity’s response to the Green Revolution was not to gratefully acknowledge the bullet that had just been dodged.  Rather than taking the rational choice to maintain the global population at the 3.5bn at the start of the Green Revolution, in the name of economic growth, governments around the world championed population growth rates that matched the growth in available food.  The result is that today, with a population of more than 7.5bn we face renewed famines despite producing record grain harvests.

We could, of course, use insect protein to cut our consumption of meat – something that is both healthier and friendlier to the environment.  But everything in human history tells us that we won’t.  All we will do with access to additional food is to use it to grow our population even further; with the result that when we have finally exhausted all of the food on the planet, our collapse will be even worse.

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