Friday, February 13, 2015

Is eating insects a good idea?

crickets live feed insects protein food security
They're currently fed to pet reptiles and amphibians, but will we all be eating these soon?
Is it just me, or is everyone everywhere talking about eating insects lately? One can’t attend a veterinary conference or seminar these days without the buzz-phrase “food security” being raised, and someone following up with “insects are emerging as the most viable major source of animal protein for the world’s exploding population”. The same someone usually gets a thrill out of watching others wince and do their sour-face as they contemplate the prospect.

And it seems that every TV show wants a part of the action. Every second challenge on I’m ACelebrity…Get Me Out Of Here seems to involve someone making hideous faces whilst contemplating eating an exotic cockroach or grub, while the promos for Shark Tank these week show a woman trying to launch a business selling sweet chilli crickets. You can even order bugs online

It’s happening in this household too. My latest flatmate noms live insects. I should qualify that “he” (gender yet to be confirmed) moved in after I covered his plight in The Veterinarian Magazine, and he needed a foster carer. And “he” is a Centralian bearded dragon. So that is just what he does. But I’ve found myself visiting pet shops to order large crickets and meal worms (he will nibble the occasional bit of carrot but right now insect protein is his staple).

Centralian bearded dragon reptile
Glenn the Centralian Bearded Dragon. He is recovering from surgery.
There is something amazing about a box of crickets. That beautiful crickety chirping sound they make as they rub their wings together reminds me of being in the bush. If one could put it beside one's bed, one could almost imagine one was sleeping under the stars. Unless one's bed is inhabited by a very dextrous three-legged cat. Unfortunately Hero hasn’t quite understood that a box of crickets is not the ultimate cat toy, so I have to keep them well out of reach.

Live-feeding is not something I’ve done since year-nine when the ladies from the office asked me (because I am an animal lover) to feed the deputy principal’s fish which apparently involved tearing worms apart. Wasn't exactly what I had in mind when I told them I love animals. I found a non-animal lover to do the job. Fish gotta eat, so do bearded dragons, and the question is are their meals worthy of our moral consideration?

More concerning than the live-feeding part, which at least in the case of my housemate is mercifully quick, is the question of cricket husbandry. The crickets see out their days in tiny boxes containing bits of egg-carton to climb on and hide under.

If we’re considering farming crickets or roaches en masse (and it is already done in many quarters), how should we be housing them? The guidelines I’ve seen are all based on maximizing production rather than considering welfare. My philosophy is that any creature in my care deserves the best husbandry I can provide. What are your thoughts? Are bugs welcome in “the sentience club”? 

Regardless, are they worthy of our consideration? And what do we know about their welfare? Would you eat them? And are they a more ethical and/or efficient protein source than mammals and birds that are more commonly consumed by humans?

Food for thought, anyway.